The Importance of Zakia Jafri’s Protest Petition


 (EPW 25MAY2013)

Vol – XLVIII No. 21, May 25, 2013 | Teesta Setalvad

 

The protest petition filed by Zakia Jafri against the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team report, which absolved Narendra Modi of all responsibility for the 2002 killings in Gujarat, is an important step towards justice for all the victims. This article recapitulates the long and diffi cult battle for justice through the courts and exposes the complicity of the SIT in protecting Modi from his crimes.

Teesta Setalvad (teestateesta@gmail.com) is secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace.

It is not often that the battle against aggressive communalism gets sustained and validated through courts of law. This communalism is not just visible in instances of violence but encompasses the sustained mobilisation that precedes the violence, it includes hate speech and writing, as well as the deliberate debilitation of preventive measures of law and order to prevent such violence and protect the lives and properties of citizens. In the south Asian context, majoritarian communalism, fed in an insidious manner by its minority prototype, has the proclivity to deteriorate into authoritarianism, even fascism. Events, past and present, in Sri Lanka, Pakistan or India are testimony to this. In the cases of all countries of the region, communalists of the majority find ready partners with their mirror-images among the minority.

For over four decades now, aggressive communalism has made deep inroads into the pillars of the Indian republic, executive, legislature and even the judiciary. The calculated, and bloody mobilisation of an ostensibly religious kind by India’s main opposition party from the late 1980s was purely political; it consolidated a vote bank of middle- and upper-class Hindus while demonising the “minority vote bank” as the raison d’être for its existence. This section of Indians, fortuitously a numerical minority yet substantial in numbers at 27 to 30% of the overall vote, has aggressively celebrated the bloody attacks on minorities and on its opposition. Writers and commentators have analysed this phenomenon as the republic’s descent into proto-fascism, with forces of the Hindu right (the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the parliamentary wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – and its other avatarsthe Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD)) manipulating institutions of democratic governance. Our administration, our police, even our courts of justice barely withstood this systemic onslaught.

Some Success

It is in this unique context that the battle for acknowledgement, justice and accountability for the well-orchestrated state directed and executed crimes of 2002 in Gujarat, needs to be understood. For over 11 years now, a steely band of survivors, backed by groups of civil and legal rights groups and activists have extracted for the first time a degree of acknowledgement, transparency and accountability from an indifferent system. One hundred and sixteen life imprisonments pronounced to, among others, policemen, powerful politicians (one former minister) and strongmen of outfits of the VHP and BD, is a success story in its own right.

What the Zakia Jafri protest petition filed on 15 April 2013 attempts is to take this battle for accountability several steps further, and deeper. In carving out a substantial case of criminal conspiracy planned and executed by the state’s chief minister, who is also its home minister, this unique and historic legal intervention raises serious questions about the systemic build-up of communal mobilisation and inaction by state agencies and actors, the state and government’s specific response to a tragedy like Godhra on 27 February 2002 and their lack of intent to contain the impact and spread of violence.

This protest petition also brings focus on the lacunae in checking hate speech and propaganda, asks for facts about summoning assistance from the military and paramilitary forces, and does a comparative analysis of districts and police commissionerates worst affected by violence (which were 15 in number) and those where the police and civilian officials refused to bow down to political masters. It also highlights the role of whistleblowers, of survivors/activists/legal and civil rights groups, and of the media in pinning down accountability on the political leadership for these mass crimes.

Gathering the Tinder

Gujarat in early 2002 was sitting on a communal cauldron, carefully stoked since October-November of 2001. Records of the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) that are well-documented parts of the protest petition (annexures to the affidavit of former SIB Gujarat chief, R B Sreekumar) as well as responses received from the office of the chief minister during the course of the investigation, clearly establish that sustained efforts to keep districts and cities of Gujarat on the boil were afoot (reference p 178, paras 426-42 of the protest petition). What these indicate is that the then newly sworn in chief minister, Narendra Modi who had been brought in by the party’s national leadership after a series of bye-election losses in September 2001, was at the helm of the law and order machinery as the state’s home minister but did little to act against this communal mobilisation.

SIB warnings include detailed notings of the aggressive anti-minority speeches being made by BJP leaders as also of the VHP and BD. One such comment, by one Prahlad Patel on his way to Faizabad-Ayodhya, recorded by the SIB would prove to be prescient, “Yeh andar ki baat hai, police hamaare saath hai” (The inside information is that the police is working with us). Despite this climate and the warnings, Godhra – with a poor record of communal violence – was left unguarded and unprepared. Despite platoons of the military and paramilitary being not far away (at Vadodara), they are not galvanised. When the Sabarmati Express arrived five hours late at the Godhra station on the fateful day of 27 February 2002, Gujarat was already sitting on a communal tinderbox.

It is how the Godhra tragedy has been deliberately manipulated that requires a careful and dispassionate study for all those concerned with non-partisan governance. The first information on Godhra received by the chief minister from the district magistrate, Jayanti Ravi, details the sequence of events – aggressive and provocative sloganeering by kar sevaks that caused a mob of Muslims to gather and pelt stones. The reasoning that explains partially, at least how and why a crowd gathered when the train stopped after it had left and the chain was pulled, is thereafter deliberately and consciously obliterated by the government in official statements and releases. The chief minister in the assembly around 1 pm hints at a sinister and Machiavellian conspiracy (paras 50-54 at pp 37-39 of the protest petition and paras 127-74, pp 71-92 of the protest petition).

It is other jigsaws in the puzzle that have fallen into place during the analysis of investigation papers and preparation of the protest petition that point to the chilling manoeuvres by men and women in positions of governance to abdicate their oath to the Indian Constitution and consciously allow a chain of criminal actions to spiral out of control.

Lighting the Fire

Between 9 am, when news of the tragedy at Godhra had been received, and 10.30 am, when an official meeting of home department officials was called by the chief minister, phone call records (that were deliberately ignored by the Special Investigation Team (SIT)) show that the chief minister was in close touch with Jaideep Patel (accused in the criminal complaint). Jaideep Patel, far from being a man from officialdom, was actually a strong man of the VHP, general secretary of their state unit. Despatched to Godhra soon after these telephone conversations it was the same Jaideep Patel who thereafter attended an official meeting at the Collectorate at Godhra (para 69, p 45 of the protest petition) and to whom the chief minister ordered the 54 dead bodies of Godhra victims to be handed over to. It was this VHP man who was given the responsibility of transporting these bodies to Ahmedabad in a motor cavalcade that caused violence in its wake (paras 73-81 at pp 47-50 of the protest petition) and it was Jaideep Patel who handed them over to the authorities at Sola Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad.

Jaideep Patel thereafter was also charged with being an instigator of mobs to commit violence at Naroda Gaam, the next day, 28 February 2002. This close contact between the chief minister and Jaideep Patel, both accused in Zakia Jafri’s criminal complaint dated 8 June 2006 continued right through till 28 February 2002 when the massacres at Naroda and Gulberg were being executed. At 15: 26:06 hours, Jaideep Patel called the chief minister at his official number and had a conversation lasting 141 seconds. Jaideep Patel’s was one of just three calls on this number. Incidentally, all the office and residential numbers of the chief minister for both days show a shockingly low number of calls, raising more questions than they answer. The mobile number of the chief minister has been left deliberately uninvestigated by the SIT (para 106, p 61 of the protest petition).

After these surreptitious indications of the criminal conspiracy that was to unfold, the chief minister, then health minister, Ashok Bhatt, minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya and Jaideep Patel were in touch and a controversial decision to conduct post-mortems on the bodies of the unfortunate Godhra victims, in the open at the railway yard in full public view of an aggressive crowd of VHP members baying for blood, was taken. The chief minister, who is accused number 1 in this protest petition, was present at Godhra at the railway yard while these illegal post-mortems were allowed (paras 473-77, pp 211-12 of the protest petition).

Law and procedure are exacting about whom the dead bodies are to be given; they require that the bodies remain in the safe-keeping of the police authorities (in this case the Godhra police where the case was registered) until claimed by relatives to whom they need to be handed over with due procedure. Photographs of gruesome and gory remains are strictly prohibited from being displayed or published (para 480, p 214 of the protest petition). Not only were the gory charred remains of the burnt passengers displayed but they were widely publicised in violation of Section 233, 4 (vi), Volume III of the Gujarat Police Manual.

Initiating Investigations

The narrative behind this legal journey is in itself an exploration into systemic efficacy and response. Zakia Jafri, widow of slain former parliamentarian Ahsan Jafri, first filed this criminal complaint before the director general of police, Gujarat. The man to hold this position on 8 June 2006, the date of the complaint, was none other than the many times promoted despite being indicted commissioner of police, Ahmedabad, P C Pande. When the Gujarat police failed to register a first information report (FIR), she along with the organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace approached the high court and later, when relief was denied further, the Supreme Court of India. On 27 April 2009 the Supreme Court seeing merit in the issues raised by the complaint handed it over to the already appointed SIT under former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director, R K Raghavan.

The investigations by the SIT resulted in four reports, three before the Supreme Court. While the SIT, despite contradictory findings, concluded there was no evidence against any of the accused, the amicus curiae (friend of the court) senior counsel Raju Ramachandran reported to the contrary. His report dated 25 July 2011 told the Supreme Court that there was a clear case for the prosecution of Modi and three others, at the least. Based on this contrary advice, the Supreme Court on 12 September 2011 told the SIT to file its final report after considering the amicus’ contrary view and, in the event of this being no different from its conclusions before the Supreme Court, specifically entitled Zakia Jafri to a complete set of the investigation papers to file a competent protest petition. After a battle of five years, the complaint that began with a plea for registration of an FIR had now proceeded to the stage of a charge sheet being filed against the accused.

The SIT did not change its conclusions and filed yet another report stating that no criminal charges were made out. Equally questionable was its adamant refusal to comply with the Supreme Court’s order of 12 September 2011 and give all the investigation papers to Zakia Jafri. The 514-page protest petition is an elaborate testimony to the reasons behind the SIT’s refusal to comply. Its own investigation papers have provided a wealth of further evidence about the complicity of the top political and administrative offices of the state government in paralysing its own administration into inaction, deliberately refusing preventive arrests or the declaration of curfew, allowing funeral processions to be the launching pads of attacks and rioting, etc. By 2013 it is clear that the SIT has not only performed an unprofessional job in a desultory manner, it is today, through its partisan conclusions, becoming a spokesperson for the Modi administration abandoning its role as an independent investigating agency that it was bound to be, given its appointment by the Supreme Court.

Ignoring Evidence

R K Raghavan, A K Malhotra and Himanshu Shukla, the three main spokespersons for the SIT, have cynically misled the Supreme Court when they stated that the funeral processions of the railway burning victims in Godhra and at least five to eight other locations (Khedbrahma, Vadodara, Modasa, Dahod, Anand) were peaceful. The evidence from police control room (PCR) records submitted by P C Pande (accused in the complaint) to the SIT after 15 March 2011 reveal a cold-blooded mobilisation of RSS and VHP workers at the Sola Civil hospital from 4 am onwards on 28 February 2002 in aggressive anticipation of the arrival of the dead bodies.

Repeated PCR messages, that the home department under Modi and P C Pande were trying to conceal, show that both in Ahmedabad and in several locations all over Gujarat, crowds were mobilised to aggressively parade bodies with bloodthirsty sloganeering, inciting mobs to attack innocent Muslims. The then joint police commissioner, Ahmedabad, Shivanand Jha, also an accused in the complaint was jurisdictionally in charge of Sola Civil Hospital in zone 1. As the messages extracted show, repeated PCR messages desperately ask for more “bandobast”, they speak of the staff and doctors of the hospital being under threat, of a 5,000-6,000 strong mob accompanying the bodies and finally one message also says that “riots have broken out” (paras 559-60 at pp 244-47 of the protest petition).

These records also reveal what the SIT was trying hard to conceal: that the Ahmedabad police under P C Pande, the then minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya (accused in the complaint), and Narendra Modi had enough forces to escort a VHP leader known for his incendiary slogans, Giriraj Kishore, from the airport to the Sola Civil hospital to accompany the processionists, but they did not have enough forces to send to Naroda Patiya where at least 96 persons were massacred in broad daylight and 69 persons at Gulberg society the same day and around the same time as these aggressive processions were being allowed.

Sustained warnings from the SIB, even after the Godhra tragedy on 27 February 2002, show that large sections of the police were aware and knew of what should be expected all over the state now that the Godhra tragedy had happened. As early as 12.30 pm on 27 February a SIB officer, through fax number 525, communicated to the headquarters that there were reports that some dead bodies would be brought to Kalupur Hospital station in Ahmedabad city. The same message said that kar sevaks had given explosive interviews to a television channel at Godhra and had threatened to unleash violence against Muslims.

But it is the panic messages from 1.51 am onwards on 28 February 2002 from police wireless vans positioned at Sola Civil Hospital demanding immediate protection from Special Reserve Police platoons and the presence of the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) zone 1, that are a grave testimony to the planned gory scenario that was to unfold. The message at 2.44 am on 28 February 2002 informed that the motor cavalcade had reached Sola Civil Hospital. Page No 5790 of Annexure IV, file XIV reveals that at 04.00 am a mob comprising of 3,000 RSS workers had already gathered at the Sola Civil Hospital. Again, another message three hours later at 7.17 am (p 5797 of Annexure IV, File XIV of the documents) says that a mob of 500 people was holding up traffic. By 11.55 am a PCR message was sent out saying that the Hindu mob had become violent and had set a vehicle on fire and was indulging in arson on the highway.

The message at 11.55 am (page no 6162 Annexure IV File XV) says that “Sayyed Saheb, the protocol officer had informed Sola-1 that riots have started at Sola civil hospital at the high court where the dead bodies were brought”. Again, there is another message with no indication of time (page no 6172 of 28 February 2002) that states that the officers and employees of the hospital had been surrounded by a 500 strong mob and they could not come out. The message also made a demand for more security for the civil hospital at Sola.

In a cynical disregard of this hard documentary evidence, the SIT, in its first investigation report dated 12 May 2010, in the chairman’s comments dated 14 May 2010 and in its final report dated 8 February 2012 says that the funeral processions were peaceful.

On the morning of 28 February 2002, another SIB message says that a funeral procession was allowed to take place at Khedbrahma, a town in Sabarkantha district, and adds that soon after the funeral procession two Muslims on their way to Khedbrahma were stabbed and the situation had become very tense. All this and more has been ignored by the SIT completely.

Other documentary evidence of deliberate acts of provocation by the likes of Jaideep Patel, Kaushik Mehta (both also accused) and Dileep Trivedi were recorded by the SIB. They made inflammatory false statements of “women being molested at Godhra” and the SIB records that other meetings at Vapi, Khedbrahma, Bhavnagar, etc, are being held by RSS, VHP and the BD to whip up sentiments (paras 631-37, pp 274-76 of the protest petition). One message at Annexure III, file XVIII (D-160) at page no 19, message no 531 from SIB police to K R Singh at 6.10 pm on 27 February 2002, actually records that “on 27 February 2002 at 4.30 pm when the train arrived at the Ahmedabad Railway station, the kar sevaks were armed with ‘dandas’ and shouting murderous slogans ‘khoon ka badla khoon’”.

SIT: Omissions and Commissions

While Modi travelled 300 kms to Godhra and returned the same night, he did not visit any of the refugee camps where women, children and men of the minority community had taken shelter until well after the 21-22 May 2002 visit of J S Verma, the then chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and former chief justice of India. He also announced a discriminatory compensation package for those killed at Godhra and those thereafter. The crucial, and sensational, meeting at his residence on the night of 27 February 2002 is where direct evidence of the conspiracy in operation has been alleged. Officers and others who were present have, over the past 11 years, indicated that clearly illegal orders were conveyed by the accused chief minister. Unlike crucial law and order meetings at times of crises, this meeting has not been minuted.

What transpired at this meeting was first publicly revealed through the report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Crimes Against Humanity – headed by Justices V R Krishna Iyer, P B Sawant and Hosbet Suresh. Thereafter in the course of the SIT investigations, a serving officer of the Gujarat police, Sanjiv Bhatt testified directly and corroborated this. The protest petition makes a strong case for testing this evidence in court. Amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran in his report to the Supreme Court had also clearly opined that it is not for the investigating agency to prejudge the evidence but place it to be tested during trial.

Despite the evidence of intense communal mobilisation, bloodthirsty speeches and actual attacks on Muslim citizens on the day of the Godhra tragedy, there is no appeal for peace and calm by the state’s chief minister and home minister. No preventive arrests were made, despite 19 attacks on minorities in Ahmedabad on 27 February 2002 itself, nor were prohibitory orders issued. There is no clarity either, from the investigation papers, as to when the army was actually called and deployed. The SIT had not bothered to record the statement of major Zameeruddin Shah, in charge of the army operations in Gujarat, nor that of K P S Gill, sent by the central government in May 2002 simply because the violence continued and refused to stop. Hence the protest petition, apart from praying for the charge sheeting of all the accused, also makes a strong case for a transfer of the further investigation to an independent agency.

The failure of the SIT was in its inability to examine the evidence objectively. An honest and robust investigation would have made a strong comparative analysis between those districts of Gujarat that burned and those that withstood the illegal instructions from above while succumbing to rampaging militias of the RSS-VHP-BD combine from below. Bhavnagar and Panchmahals are interesting studies. Superintendent of police Rahul Sharma, despite all attempts to unleash bloodshed, held his own, even though reinforcements and troops were deliberately delayed by his seniors in Gandhinagar. Annoyed at his non-partisan conduct he was transferred by 26 March 2002. Brought to the crime branch, he again made significant inputs about non-partisan charge sheets in both the Gulberg and Naroda Patiya investigations; he was transferred yet again.

In Conclusion

The narrative of the conspiracy of partisan governance and subversion of the justice process runs parallel to a cynical policy of punishing those officers who refused to become collaborators in the planned bloodshed. Unfashionable as it is to quote from Jawaharlal Nehru when he said that “The [real] danger to India, is from Hindu right-wing communalism”, it seems more than appropriate given the continued attempts by the government in power in Gujarat and the party in power, to belittle what has been an onerous and exacting battle, fought at great risk, within the courts.

 

Naroda Patiya case: Modi government does a U-turn on Kodnani, Bajrangi #deathpenalty


CNN-IBN | Updated May 14, 2013

Ahmedabad: In a U-turn of sorts, the Gujarat state legal department has written to the chief prosecutor in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, seeking approval for enhancement of punishment for BJP leader Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal’s Babu Bajrangi to be put on hold. The legal department wants the punishment to be put on hold until further instructions.

Earlier the department had given a sanction to the Special Investigation Team to file an application in the High Court seeking death sentence for Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and nine others. 97 persons were killed in Naroda Patiya during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In 2012, a special court had sentenced Maya Kodnani to 28 years in jail for the massacre in Naroda Patiya. Kodnani is the sitting MLA from Naroda Patiya.

 

Kodnani, a three-time MLA from Naroda area, who was considered to be close to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is the first woman and first MLA to be convicted and sentenced in a post-Godhra riots case.

Kodnani was the minister of women and child development in the Narendra Modi government but was forced to resign after a case was lodged against her in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002.

The trial court had convicted 32 people and acquitted 29 others in the Naroda Patiya massacre case which took place during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The Naroda Patiya massacre is the largest single case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out following the Sabarmati Express train carnage near Godhra station. The case has been probed by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT).

As many as 327 witnesses, comprising eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials, forensic experts and journalists including Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, were examined by the court.

 

Gujarat – Different riot, same story #antisikhriots


MIDDAY

17APR2013

 

Ranjona Banerji, Mid Day 

Just as anyone who lived in Delhi through the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 or the Mumbai riots of 1992 and 1993 knows what happened, that is true of Gujarat 2002 as well. Trying to get to office on February 2008 – a day after the attack on the Sabarmati Express — was a harrowing experience, dodging mobs out on the roads in Ahmedabad, looting and burning.

The policemen who I saw that day stood quietly in corners, away from the mayhem. They looked away when they were exhorted to help.

What the investigation, broadcast by a news channel this week, into the police wireless reports from February 27 onwards shows is that there were some police officers who were well aware of what was happening and were asking for help even as the situation got out of control. Also evident from the innumerable messages from the State Intelligence Bureau is that there was awareness about the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal gathering forces and fear over the outcome. The riots were not spontaneous or sudden, as claimed by the state and Central governments.

All this was evident on the streets on Ahmedabad. While a restaurant near my residence in that city was being vandalised, people in cars called for hand carts on their cell phones to carry away the discarded furniture. The restaurant only served vegetarian food but its name was ambivalent and could well have been Muslim. The anti-Muslim rhetoric and cries of “revenge” for the Godhra attack were everywhere.

College professors visited the newspaper office where I worked, initially shame- faced and then slipping in lines like “ but maybe they deserved it”, harking back to the raids on the Somnath temple by Mahmud of Ghazni.

The government took too long to respond, the police commissioner never left his office — even though there was mayhem on the streets outside and victims arriving in hundreds in camps a stone’s throw away. The army also came too late. Riots are always shameful and shocking and rarely if even spontaneous. But usually even the most cynically manipulative of governments makes an attempt to control proceedings. In Gujarat in 2002 however it seemed as the riots were allowed to continue — with incidences of violence stretching into months.

There is some anger and resentment — perhaps understandable — that is there is too much focus on Gujarat when rioters elsewhere have escaped. This is definitely true.

Jagdish Tytler appears defiantly free, defending himself on TV when victim after victim named him for the attacks on Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. The worst example is perhaps Mumbai. The hand of the Shiv Sena in the riots is well known.

The Srikrishna Commission indicted the party from its late chief Bal Thackeray downwards. Nothing happened to the Sena and nothing happened to the investigations into the riots. The case into the1993 bomb blasts which followed the riots has seen closure, with much public attention.

So far, the public discourse about riots has been disquieting, even toxic.

If religious minorities — like Muslims in Gujarat 2002 or in Bombay 1992- 1993 — are the targets then we fall into a lose- lose spiral of accusations of false secularism, demands of ubernationalism, complaints of appeasement and what is nothing short of majoritarian bullying. We seem unable to accept that religion per se — whether it is used by Muslims or Hindus or anyone else — cannot and must not be a justification for violence. Governments do not like to probe riots too deeply because they feel that given the amount mass level anger or hatred exposed, such wounds are best left untouched and ignored.

Gujarat then is the first opportunity to India to clean up its act. It is thanks to the Supreme Court alone — as far as a Constitutional authority goes — that the Gujarat riots have seen any move towards justice.

Unfortunately, the apex court had to step in because of the reluctance of the state government to move on the cases against rioters. Therefore, while there may be inherent unfairness about riots in the past, this is one opportunity to provide a template for justice in the future.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.

You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

 

#India – Gujarat riots were not spontaneous and sudden Mr Narendra Modi


Exclusive Headlines today, Ashish Khaitan  April 16, 2013

In the past 10 years, the Gujarat government and senior BJP leaders have often said that the riots that broke out in the state in February 2012 were an ‘instantaneous reaction’ to the carnage at Godhra. The chief minister himself in an interview on March 1, 2002 had said, “What we are witnessing in Gujarat at this time is a chain of action and reaction. We want that there neither be action nor reaction.”

But now Headlines Today has uncovered the police control room messages and the state intelligence bureau reports which show that the police had received a constant stream of inputs from its field officers about VHP leaders making provocative speeches, about crowds being mobilised and warnings about the possibility of major riots breaking out. Despite the flurry of ground reports and advance warnings, no curfew was imposed in Ahmedabad till noon the next day. The BJP government supported the VHP called bandhs that, as events turned out, proved to be the pretext under which violent mobs were mobilized. VHP leaders were not warned or put under preventive detention.

But the most intriguing aspect of these messages is that while they have been produced before the court as annexures, they don’t find any mention in the 541 page closure report filed by the SIT. No attempt has been made by the SIT to reconstruct the sequence of events as they unfolded immediately after the news of Sabarmati train incident broke. The SIT did not assess the adequacy or appropriateness of the state’s response in a chronological fashion as the law and order collapsed in large parts of the state.

 Perhaps, that’s the reason that the facts that emerge from these messages are hard to reconcile with the conclusions drawn by the SIT.

There were two centralised police control rooms in Ahmedabad in 2002 – Ahmedabad Police Control Room situated at Shahibaug in the heart of the city.  Naroda and Gulberg Society, where around 150 people were burnt to death on the 28th of February lay within a radius of 6 KMs from this Police Control Room 9Gulber was 2 to 3 kms from the control room while Naroda was roughly six kilometers).

The second one — the State Police Control Room — located at Police Bhawan in Gandhinagar.

The Ahmedabad Police Control Room received messages of the build up taking place in Ahmedabad City. The State Control Room got messages from different districts in the state.

In February 2012 the SIT submitted before an Ahmedabad court, in a sealed cover, only the Ahmedabad City PCR messages… a copy of these are now with Headlines Today. The State Control Room messages are still missing.

There was also a third control room…this was at the State Intelligence Bureau Headquarters situated inside Police Bhawan, Gandhinagar…the  same building where the State DGP’s office is located. The SIB Control Room was also flooded with field intelligence reports filed by its intelligence units located across the State including Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. These SIB reports too have been submitted before the Court by the SIT. A copy of these too is now in the possession of Headlines Today.

By the afternoon of February 27, the Gujarat home department was being bombarded with messages from cops on the ground about mobilisation of VHP and Bajrang Dal cadre.

Rightwing activists across the state were holding public meetings, making provocative speeches and inciting mobs. All this is documented in hundreds of wireless messages sent by policemen to the state intelligence bureau. But the State failed to take any effective steps to prevent the imminent massacres. Within a few hours after the Godhra tragedy, the three senior-most office bearers of Gujarat’s VHP unit -Jaideep Patel, Dilep Trivedi and Kaushik Patel– issued a statement declaring a state wide bandh and containing remarks that were designed to incite the mobs.

A field level officer faxed this statement to SIB headquarters at 20:38 hours on the 27 Feb 2002.

February 27, 2002

Time: 8:38 pm

State Intelligence Bureau Message No: Page No. 188 (Annexure III, File XVIII)
VHP general secreatary Dilip Trivedi & VHP joint secretaries Jaideep Patel & Kaushik Mehta issue a statement.

VHP declares Gujarat bandh to protest killing of kar sevaks.

Statement says Muslims pre-planned Godhra attack.

Innocent ladies were molested and compartments were set on fire and Ramsevaks were burnt alive.

Through out the day on 27th February the SIB control room received messages of provocative sloganeering and mobilisation by the VHP.

February 27, 2002

Time: Not Known

State Intelligence Bureau Message No: Page No. 345, Order No. 24 (Annexure III File XIX)

Sender: D.O, Ahmedabad

Recipient: Intelligence Office, Virangam (Ahmedabad)

75 VHP & Bajrang Dal members gathered at Virangam Town Chali & Golwada area.

Situation in the area very tense.

The PCR messages warned about the tension that was spreading from the moment sabarmati express (the same train that was attacked by Muslim mobs at Godhra and later after detaching the burnt bogies made its way to Ahmedabad) arrived at Ahmedabad station.

February 27, 2002

Time: 6:10 pm

State Intelligence Bureau Message: No. 531 Page No. 19 (Annexure III, File XVIII (D-160)

Sabarmati Express arrived at Ahmedabad station from Godhra at 4:30 pm.

Karsevaks armed with rods & sticks, shouting slogans ‘khoon ka badla khoon’.

At 10:12 pm, Police Inspector of CID, Intelligence in Bhavnagar sent a fax to Inspector General, Gujarat State Intelligence Bureau in Gandhi Nagar saying that Sadhu Samaj president Gopal Nand and local VHP leaders exhorted crowds at Junagadh to retaliate. The message said that the VHP leaders delivered hate speeches and called on all Hindus to unite.

 February 27, 2002

Time: 10:12 pm

State Intelligence Bureau Fax Message: 311/02 Page No.: D-1/ HA/Jaher Sabha/Junagadh

Sender: CID, Bhavnagar

Recipient: IG, Gujarat & Intelligence Bureau, Gandhi Nagar

Sadhu Samaj president Gopal Nand gave provocative speech at Junagadh Kadva Chowk between 7:30 pm-9 pm.

Gopal Nand questioned lack of response from Hindus even 12 hours after burning of train.

Gopal Nand questioned Muslim patriotism to India and incited mobs to attack them.

By the afternoon of the 27th, the riots had begun.

February 27, 2002

Time 17:45

State Intelligence Bureau Fax Message No 273 File XIX Annexure III

Sender: B M Mohit Anand Centre

Sabarmati Express reached Anand Railway Station at 1500 hrs

Karsevaks from the train stabbed 4 Muslims present at the station.

One victim named Abdul Rashid aged 65 years, resident of Anand, died.

Remaining were hospitalised at Anand government hospital.

Reports of violent attacks by karsevaks came from across the state. A VHP mob was reported as swelling at Vadagam village in Modasa that was to become another epicentre of violence. There were desperate SOS messages seeking reinforcements. Mobs were on rampage through the night, setting ablaze houses and vehicles.

February 27, 2002

Time: 11:59 pm

State Intelligence Bureau Fax Message: Com/HM/550/ Out No. 398

Sender: ACP, Gandhinagar Region

Recipient: IG, Gujarat & Intelligence Bureau, Gandhi Nagar

50 kar sevaks on special bus from Ahmedabad reached Modasa, Vadagam village at 6:30 pm.

500-strong mob received kar sevaks.

Karsevaks told mobs about attack on Sabarmati Express.

Crowds swelled to thousands by 9:30 pm.

Police presence insufficient to maintain order.

10 shops owned by Muslims & several vehicles set ablaze by mobs.

Despite these warnings there was no clampdown by the Gujarat government on the mobilisation being carried out by the VHP leadership and neither were VHP and Bajrang Dal members taken under preventive detention.

The Speical Investigation Team in its report accepted that the Modi government supported the bandh called by the VHP.

Page 134 of SIT closure report: “Shri Vijay Badheka, Under Secretary to Home Department has stated before the SIT that both Gujarat bandh on 28.02.02 and Bharat bandh on 01.03.02 were supported by the BJP.”

The bandh allowed the VHP cadre a free run even as the SIB kept sending signals of impending riots and sought preventive action.

February 28, 2002

Time: 9am-10am

State Intelligence Bureau Message No: 73/02 Page 365 (Annexure III File XXI (D-166)

Sender: ACP (Intelligence) Surat

VHP, BJP leaders gave provocative speeches at Sardar Chowk, Vapi Town.

VHP’s Dinesh Behri, Bajrang Dal’s Acharya Brahmbatt, BJP’s Jawahar Desai & RSS member Vinod Chowdhary present Speakers exhorted crowds to take revenge for Godhra.

When the Ahmedabad police commissioner P.C. Pande and State DGP K. Chakravarty were questioned by the SIT, they were not confronted with these specific SIB reports. P.C. Pande was not asked why curfew was not imposed in Ahmedabad city on the 27th afternoon itself, particularly in the face of such specific intelligence inputs.

Pande told SIT on page 7 of his statement recorded on 24.03.2010: “The circumstances did not exist on the 27.02.02 or even on 28.02.02 to warrant the imposition of curfew and any hasty decision would have led to panic in the city. Even otherwise with limited forces available imposition of curfew becomes a serious problem and large scale breach becomes common.”

Pande and Chakravarty were also not asked why VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders were not put under preventive arrest even as they were threatening violence.

But the SIT has not explained what these specific measures were. General and vague claims made by Gujarat State Officials that all possible efforts were made to control the riots have been accepted by the SIT.

The State Intelligence Bureau repeatedly pressed the panic button, sending SOS’ to the home department about the possibility of riots. Bodies of kar sevaks in public display and funeral processions by mobs…proved to be the trigger. But records show the VHP and its cadres succeeded in stoking mass hysteria.

30 minutes past midnight on the 28th of February 2002, the state intelligence bureau received a fax giving a specific warning about possibility of riots with bodies being brought to Ahmedabad. Then VHP state unit president Jaideep Patel was already on his way escorting the 54 bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad.

February 28, 2002

Time: 12:30 am

State Intelligence Bureau Fax No. 525

Bodies will be brought to Kalupur Railway station, Ahmedabad.

Dead bodies will be carried in funeral processions VHP gave a bandh call.

High possibility of riots in Ahmedabad. Take preventive action.

February 28, 2002.

Time: Not Known

State Intelligence Bureau report to Home Secretary and all Police Commissioner, all SPs

VHP has given a call for “Gujarat Bandh”.

Appropriate vigilance be exercised.

The motorcade carrying bodies finally reached Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad at 3:34 AM. By then there was a already a mob made up of VHP and RSS members outside Sola Hospital.

The PCR Van positioned at Sola Civil Hospital sent a message to City Police Control Room situated at Shaibaug. The distance between Hospital and Control Room was 11 kilometres.

February 28, 2002

Time: 4:00 am

Page No. 5790 (Annexure IV, File XIV)

Mob of 3000 RSS members gathered at Sola Hospital.

February 28, 2002

Time: 7:14 am

PCR wireless message (Sola Hospital)

Page No. 5796 (Annexure IV, File XIV)

Mob assembled at Sola Hospital.

The crowds were getting restless. Soon violence sparked off.

February 28, 2002

Time: 7:17 am

PCR wireless message (Sola Hospital)

Page No. 5797 (Annexure IV, File XIV)

Mob of 500 people holding up traffic.

At 8:10 there is a message from the Control Room saying that 3 SRP Companies have been sent to Sola Hospital for extra bandobast.

 February 28, 2002

Time: 11:55 am

PCR wireless message: Page No 5894(Annexure IV, File XIV)

Mob set vehicle on fire, arson on highway.

February 28, 2002

Time: 11.55 am

PCR message

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No.6162 (Annexure IV File XV)

Riots have started at Sola Hospital & near High Court where bodies were brought.

February 28, 2002

Time: Not known

PCR message (Sola Hospital)

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No.?6172

Sola Hospital staff surrounded by 500-strong mob Please provide security at hospital urgently.

These revelations show how mobs were allowed to congregate at the hospital to take out funeral processions. Though violence had erupted, curfew was still not clamped.

Pande claimed in his statement before the SIT that he visited the Hospital at 10 am and found everything to be normal.

“I went to Sola Civil Hosptal around 10:00 and found that doctors were under pressure to complete the documentation wheras relatives were in a hurry to take the bodies. However, I didn’t find anything alarming and as such returned around 11:00 am.”

Pande also claimed there were no funeral processions, a claim accepted by the SIT. But the PCR messages show that there were not only processions but also riots at the hospital, nailing Pande’s lies.

February 28, 2002

Time: 11:58 am

PCR message (Sola Hospital)

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No. 5907 & 5925(Annexure IV File XIV)

Funeral procession of 10 bodies taken out from Ramol Jantanagar to Hatkeshwar crematorium 6,000 people accompanied procession.

As funeral processions wound through the city, mobs ran amok at Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaam in Ahmedabad.

February 28, 2002

Time: Not known

PCR message (Khedbrahma, Sabarkantha) Com/538

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No. 258 (Annexure III File XIX)

Funeral procession allowed at Khedbrahma town in Sabarkantha district

Situation tense, 2 Muslims stabbed at Khedbrahma

February 28, 2002

Time: Not known

PCR message (Khedbrahma, Sabarkantha)

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No. 262 (Annexure III File XIX)

150 Bajrang Dal members on way to Khedbrahma.

February 28, 2002

Time: 3:32 pm

PCR message (Khedbrahma, Sabarkantha)

State Intelligence Bureau: Page No. 254 (Annexure III file XIX) Com/574

Funeral procession organised for Godhra train victim Babubhai Patel in Sabarkantha.

Special Investigation Team in its closure report on pages 59 to 64 had concluded there were no funeral processions and gave a clean-chit to the Gujarat government on this count.

 PCR messages detailing incidence of violence in Ahmedabad clearly warned about a brewing unrest. Rioting was reported from Naroda and Meghani Nagar where Gulberg Society is located. The PCR messages of violence in Ahmedabad are contained in Annexure IV File XIV. Here are some samples of the several wireless messages sent by policemen on the ground.

Page No. 5798, 5803, 5804

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 12:30 am

PCR Message: Factory burnt at Ambikanagar on February 27

Area: Odhav

FIR No.80/02

Page No,: 5746

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 1:10 am

PCR Message: Between 2:30-3:00 pm on Feb 27, mob stoned bus, vandalized shop

Area: Bapunagar

FIR No.: 64/02

Page No.: 5768

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 2:38 am

PCR Message: Mob torched buses & rickshaws, damaged public property on Feb 27 at 5:15 pm

Area: Odhav

FIR No.:78/02

Page No.: 341, Order No. 534

Date: February 27, 2002

Time: 8:25pm

State Intelligence Bureau Message: Man succumbs to stab injuries on February 27 at 8:25 pm

Area: Meghani Nagar

FIR No.: 65/02

Page No.: 341, Order No. 534

Date: February 27, 2002

Time: Not Known

State Intelligence Bureau Message: Man succumbs to injuries on Feb 27 at 7:45 pm at Saralaben Hospital.

Area: Meghani Nagar

FIR No.: 65/02

Page No.: 347, Order No. 8535

Date: February 27, 2002

Time: 8:30 pm

State Intelligence Bureau Message: Man critically injured after attack at Ahmedabad railway station at 5 pm.

Area: Ahmedabad

FIR No: Not Known

Page No: 348, Order 541

Date: February 27, 2002

Time: 9:30pm

State Intelligence Bureau Message: Juhapura resident attacked at V.F Hospital.

Area: Ahmedabad

FIR No: 116

Page No.: 5807 & 5808

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 4:28 am

PCR Message: One critically injured near Kathwada Road, Naroda, on February 27 at 7:30 pm.

Area: Naroda

FIR No.: 97/02

Page No.: 5805 & 5806

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 4:20 am

State Intelligence Bureau Message: One critically injured near Law Garden on February 27 at 8:15 pm.

Area: Ellisbridge

FIR No: 116/02

Page No.: 5801

Date: February 28, 2002

Time: 3:50 am

State Intelligence Bureau Message: One critically injured in mob attack near Mahalaxmi Crossroad, Paldi on Feb 27 at 8:30 pm.

Area: Ellisbridge

FIR No.: 114/02

Inspite of all of this, the then Ahmedabad Police Commissioner told the SIT that he didn’t find the “circumstances on the 27th and 28th fit for curfew.”

PCR and SIB reports show that there were regular inputs of VHP and Bajrang Dal led mobs swelling at Naroda and Gulberg Society.

Pande admitted before the SIT that at both these places curfew was declared only after 12:50 pm …by then the mob had already swelled to between 10 and 15 thousand people in number. It is no wonder that the curfew that was finally imposed remained only on paper – it had no effect on the ground.

Hundred and fifty men, women and children were burnt and hacked to death at Naroda and Gulberg society in the four hours between 2 and 6 PM on February 28.

Police Headquarters at Shahibaug was only 2 to 3 kilometers from Gulberg Society and around 6 kilometers from Naroda Patiya.

Pande admitted before the SIT that through out the day he didn’t move out of his office and visited Naroda Patiya and Gulberg only late in the evening…by that time the massacre was over and done with.

SIB messages show that there were three alerts about the impending massacre at Gulberg.

Date: 28.02.02

Time: 12:15

Sender: Police Inspector CJ Bharwad To: State SIB Control Room

Muslims reside in Gulberg Society.

Mob is surrounding the place.

Strict watch should be kept there.

Date: 28.02.02

Time: 14:50

Sender: Police Inspector CJ Bharwad To: State SIB Control Room

Mob of 3000 rioters has surrounded Gulberg Society, take immediate action.

Date: 28.02.02

Time: 17:00

Sender: Police Inspector CJ Bharwad To: State SIB Control Room

Mob attacked the society from all sides Ehsan Jaffri and women and children burnt alive.

Houses are ablaze. Mob is looting from homes.

In his defence Pande said in his statement: “On 28.2.2002 requests were received from different police stations seeking additional force and SRP and whatever forces were available with me the same were dispatched. However, I found that no feedback had been received by any one of them. This led me to presumption that additional forces reached in time and they were able to control the situation.”

SIT accepted Pande’s defence and gave him and the Gujarat Administration a clean chit.

The state government told the SIT that the 2002 riots were a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra tragedy, but documentary evidence tells a different story.

Eleven years after the after the horrific incidents as Narendra Modi aspires for the prime minister’s chair, Headlines Today has tried to throw fresh light on why his ascension remains so contentious.

Read more at:http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/gujarat-riots-2002-godhra-sudden-spontaneous-backlash-frantic-police-warnings-ignored/1/262413.html

 

IIT-K alumni honour Rahul Sharma,while Modi Govt Chargesheets him #WTFnews


Ajay Umat | TNN 

Ahmedabad: The IIT-Kanpur Alumni Association has decided to confer on Gujarat IPS officer Rahul Sharma the prestigious Satyendra Dubey Memorial Award. The award is to be presented on March 3 at Kanpur but Sharma has not made up his mind yet on whether to attend the function.

Best-known whistleblower Satyendra Dubey (1973-2003) was a project director at the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). He was murdered in Gaya, Bihar after fighting corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project. Like Dubey, Sharma is an

alumnus of IIT-Kanpur. The award is meant for IITians and had gone to Arvind Kejriwal, a graduate from IIT-Kharagpur, in the past.

But, there is a big catch here. Clause 12 of All India Service Rules states that if an officer gets an award, he/she has to seek permission of the government before accepting it. The chances of the government granting permission to Sharma to attend the event in Kanpur are nil.

Sharma has been charged-sheeted by the Narendra Modi government for not taking permission before submitting call data records of certain persons to judicial inquiry commissions to prove their complicity in the 2002 post-Godhra riots. The records had helped nail the truth in the Naroda Patia case where former minister Maya Kodnani was among those who were convicted.

Sharma’s records include the phones of Modi’s office, politicians and police officers and, besides revealing who was talking to whom, it shows their movements during the peak hours of rioting on February 28, 2002.

A 1992-batch IPS officer, Sharma is also being recognised as a saviour of 200 children in a madrassa in Bhavnagar which was surround- ed by a mob on

the same day. Sharma was moved out of his position as SP, western railway, on February 26 — a day before the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra.

He was transferred as SP Bhavnagar and he tackled the Godhra aftermath effectively. Even the Union home minister L K Advani had praised his actions in parliament. But after he submitted the CD in 2004, he has been given sideline postings and harassed by bosses with dozens of memos on the smallest of issues. Presently, he is posted as DIG, Special Reserve Police, Vadodara.

Framed and acquitted: My tryst with late Umarji


By Abu Zafar1/17/13

 

“Jail se aane ke baad mere ghar ke samne bahot se patrkaar the, magar maine unhe baat karne se mana kardia. Gujarat mein Sach baat kadvi lagti hai (There were several media persons present outside my house after I was released from jail, but I chose not to interact with them. Truth sounds bitter in Gujarat),” said Maulana Hussain Ibrahim Umarji when I first met him about two weeks after his acquittal.

(A memoir into the life of Moulana Umarji who spent eight years in jail in connection with the Godhra train burning incident and was later acquitted of all charges)

I remember that Umarji was not ready to talk to any media person after his release. He had spent more than 8 years of his life in jail for no offence of his.

Gujarat Police had termed him as a ‘key conspirator’, while the media preferred ‘mastermind’, of the Godhra train burning incident which led to the death of 58 Karsevaks (workers affiliated to right-wing groups) travelling in the Sabarmati Express on 28 February 2002.

Though Umarji passed away last Sunday, his tryst with destiny has raised several questions which continue to haunt a secular and democratic state like India.

After trying hard for two weeks, Umarji had finally agreed to talk to me. In an exclusive interview in March 2011, he told me that he had never seen the Sabarmati Express as it passes Godhra only at night.

He even justified his reluctance of talking with media-persons by saying that he did not see any benefit in it. He said that there were chances of him being harassed by the state machinery again.

As he continued talking, he went on uncovering how Police fabricated cases against innocents and recorded confessional statements after meting out mental and physical torture.

“Is system ko badlo warna police har jagah dastakhat lekar kahani ghad le gi (Change this system, otherwise the police will take signatures everywhere and start fabricating stories),” he said.

According to Umarji, his only crime which attracted the wrath of the state machinery was that he submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpaee, who had visited Godhra during the riots in 2002.

In the memorandum, Umarji had pointed out the sort of preparations done by the rioters before the Godhra riots itself. According to him, post-Godhra incidents were not riots but ‘mass murder’.

He had also shared his and other victims’ difficulties with Vajpaee and human rights organizations.

“They wished that none should complain against their cruelty and should tolerate whatever is being done. Our action offended them,” Umarji said in a bitter tone.

Discussing the riots, he recalled that Godhra was a target of communal forces since a long time. On 23 March 1948, Godhra was set on fire and even during Advani’s Rath Yatra 26 Muslims were killed.

In the post-Godhra riots, 258 Muslims were killed only in Panchmahal district and their bodies were not even given to us, he had said.

Umarji, who had graduated from the well-known Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband in 1967, headed relief work during and after the Gujarat riots. He also managed a relief camp which housed about 3500 refugees of the Gujarat carnage.

He had very close relations with the former Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind chief Maulana Asad Madani and had met former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and H. D. Deve Gowda during his days of social work.

 

Maulana Hussain Umarji- He died a broken man


JYOTI PUNWANI, The Hindu, Jan 17/1/2013

Maulana Hussain Umarji. File Photo
PTIMaulana Hussain Umarji. File Photo

Though Maulana Umarji was the first to apologise on behalf of his community for the Godhra incident, he died tarnished, accused of being the mastermind even after his acquittal

Maulana Hussain Umarji died of brain haemorrhage on Sunday night, a free man but a tarnished one. As his son Saeed said, “His mind could never free itself of the stain on his reputation. Even after he was acquitted, the media kept asking: how did the ‘mastermind’ go free?”

Few outside Godhra knew of Maulana Umarji till Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was burnt there on February 27, 2002, leading to the gruesome death of 59 passengers, most of them Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) followers. The subsequent violence against Muslims in Gujarat saw thousands of injured, raped, orphaned and widowed Muslims pour into Godhra from neighbouring villages, necessitating the setting up of relief camps for them. Maulana Umarji, the head of the town’s Ghanchi community, ran the three camps, and thereby entered the limelight, finally leading to his arrest as the mastermind of the train burning, a year after the incident.

As Saeed Umarji said, “If this is the reward you get for doing social work, God save this country.”

Acquittals

It wasn’t just social work that Saeed’s father did in those violent months of 2002. Running the camps without much help was difficult enough. But that could have been done by others equally efficiently. Maulana Umarji did what no one else could. He kept his flock in check. Notorious for their impulsive violent reactions to any slight to their faith (it was outside their settlement near Godhra station that the Sabarmati coach was set on fire), Godhra’s Ghanchi Muslims couldn’t contain themselves as they heard tales of atrocities from the villagers who poured into their relief camps, punished for something with which they had had no connection. (Incidentally, Narendra Modi is a Ghanchi.) Additionally, in those days, night curfew was on, and the police were conducting nightly raids on Ghanchi localities, hunting for those who burnt the train, picking up anyone they could. (As many as 63 of the 94 accused were acquitted.)

In this explosive atmosphere, Maulana Umarji succeeded in preventing a major flare-up between the police and his flock. But that was not his only achievement. The Maulana was the first to apologise on behalf of his community for the burning of the Sabarmati coach.

He did this at the first peace meeting called by Godhra’s Collector, and then at subsequent meetings. He apologised too in front of then Prime Minister Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi, when they came to see the burnt coach. These apologies went unreported, as did his condemnation of the incident and his appeal for peace sent to newspapers.

This was the man arrested as the “mastermind” of the train burning, on the basis of a statement made by a criminal in custody who retracted it the moment he was produced before a magistrate. Everyone in Polan Bazar, Godhra’s main Muslim area, saw the police take away their 63-year-old spiritual leader just before dawn from his house, hobbling without spectacles or walking stick. The next day, the media went berserk with lurid tales of contacts with Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Mullah Umar, fiery sermons, hidden wealth … all these accompanied by close-ups of the Maulana’s face contorted in anger, fitting exactly the stereotype of the “jehadi antinational Mullah.” Such was the impact of this coverage that when he was acquitted eight years later, Hindus across Gujarat cursed the police and the judge for letting the “mastermind” off.

No support

For the Maulana, there couldn’t have been a worse charge. As he told this reporter in April 2002, “Muslims have been taught to be patient, so all this (violence) we are facing today, we shall suffer it. But what makes me angry is when they question our patriotism. Don’t they know that 14,000 ulema had been hung from the trees of Delhi for fighting for freedom? My own guru was in jail in Malta for six years. The British promised him freedom if he only gave up Gandhiji. He refused. I fear the country is not safe in their hands. It will be ruined.”

The tragedy was that when he was arrested by the BJP government, not even the Congress for whom he had campaigned in the December 2002 Assembly elections, spoke up in his defence. This campaign was one of the reasons for his arrest. The other was that with his outspoken denunciation of the treatment of Muslims to the Prime Minister, and his open help to the families of those arrested from Godhra, he had become the defiant face of Gujarat’s Muslims at a time when the entire community was cowed down.

Maulana Umarji never got bail, even after the charges of terrorism were removed in 2009. While he languished in jail, six of his children were married off. In February 2011, as his community thronged his house after he finally came home having been acquitted, his first question to this reporter was to inquire about her health, and narrate how jail had actually done him good thanks to Ramdev’s yoga classes there.

Apparently, not enough good to counter the stigma Modi’s government and the media had put him through. Even though a fiercely protective son prevented him from donning his community’s leadership again, he lasted barely two years after his release.

(Jyoti Punwani is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer.)

 

‘Ten years of the Gujarat Genocide’


Invitation to a Commemoration Meeting in Mumbai:
‘Justice for Victims of 2002 Genocide’
Day/Date: Monday, February 27, 2012; 6-8 pm. (Meeting starts at 6 pm sharp)
Venue: St. Xaviers College Main auditorium, Next to Rang Bhavan,
5, Mahapalika Marg, Mumbai. (Phone: 22620661)

February 27/28 mark ten years both of the tragic death of 57 persons due to fire in a compartment of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra station and the criminal manipulation of this tragic incident as a pretext for the Modi government sponsored anti-Muslim genocide throughout the state.

On February 27, thousands of victim-survivors of the mass crime, lawyers, jurists, activists, artistes and intellectuals from all over the country will assemble at Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad for a commemoration. Through words and images, reminiscences and video-clips, photo exhibition, names of ‘Missing Persons’ enlisted on a ‘Wailing Wall’, honouring those who risked their lives to save neighbours who were the target, music and tears, the Crimes Against Humanity committed ten years ago will be recalled and the plight of the traumatised and the displaced highlighted. The survivors from Gulberg Society will lead the assembled people through the housing colony and recount the horrors of February 28, 2002. A collective resolve will be renewed to continue the struggle for justice to the victim-survivors and punishment to the perpetrators and masterminds of the carnage.

The entire programme at Gulberg Society, symbolising the Holocaust in Gujarat will be webcast for viewing Live on the afternoon/evening of Feb 27 and posted on U-tube subsequently so that we remember, never forget.

Simultaneous Commemoration Meetings are planned in several cities, including Mumbai and Delhi. For a part of the meeting on Feb 27, we hope to be able to view the programme webcast Live from Gulberg Society. The Mumbai meeting is being jointly organised by ALL justice and peace-promoting individuals/organisations and St Xaviers College. We urge you to be there and also publicise it widely within your circle of family, friends and colleagues urging them to be there too.

Convenor: Javed Anand, Citizens for Justice and Peace (M: 9870402556)

Co-convenors:

Dolphy D’Souza, Bombay Catholic Sabha (M: 9820226227)

Fr Lancy Pinto, Justice and Peace Commission (M: 9769814788)

Hasina Khan, Awaaz-e-Niswan/Forum Against Women’s Oppression (M: 9870162113)

Irfan Engineer, All India Secular Forum (M: 9869462833)

Noorjehan Safia Niaz, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (M: 9833072690)

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