This Day Five Years Ago, Justice was Done & a Former Minister Convicted of Murder and Rioting: Naroda Patiya Case

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: August 29, 2017
Five years ago around 11.30 a.m. and the Special Sessions Court of Judge Jyotsana Yagnik resembled a tight security jail. It was August 29, 2012. The judgement was due in the infamous massacre of 96 persons in borad daylight, the worst case of the genocidal carnage in Gujarat in 2002. Naroda Patiya lies on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, administratively falling under Zone IV, the same as the Gulberg society at Meghaninagar. Today, August 29, 2017, the concluding arguments in the appeal against Kodnani and other convictions are being made before a division bench of the Gujarat High Court.



Naroda Patiya and Gulberg, are, arguably, two of the two worst incidents of the reprisal killings that rocked the state as bodies of the Godhra mass arson victims were given to VHP strongman Jaideep Patel and thereafter paraded in angry processions in Ahmedabad and elsewhere. Three hundred such incidents were clocked in 19 of the state’s 25 districts.

On that day, August 29, 2012, women survivors and witnesses, who had testified bravely in the face of stiff threats, intimidation and opposition, haield the verdict. Will justice prevail yet again? Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has represented the survivors. Counsel for the SIT has been Prashant Desai before the court. In all 32 persons had been convicted including former BJP MLA and minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, Smt Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi, Bipin Panchal, Ashok Sindhi and Kishan Korani (sitting corporator, accused No 20) have  been convicted. Twenty-nine of the accused were acquitted.CJP  has argued against the acquittals too before the Gujarat High Court.

In the interim five years, through controversial decisions, former BJP MLA and former minister (she was elevated after the carnage by then chief minister Narendra Modi to the berth) was granted bail, first by the High Court and then this was confirmed by the Supreme Court. It was only CJP for the survivors that had contested the grant of bail to this powerful accused.

The over 1,900 page judgement of Judge Jyotsnana Yagnik (that may be read here) has been hailed for its thorough expolaration of the contours of criminal law jurisprudence, especially related to criminal conspiracy, fair investigation, Sting Operation as Corrobrative evidence. The SIT invesigation came up for sharp reprimand especially in the matter of not investigating the phone call records of powerful accused and policemen.

Most of the accused have been charged with Sections 143, 144, 147, 148 with 149, 295, 427, 435, 436, 440, 153, 153a, 153a(ii), 323-326,302, 307 (attempt to murder) read with 149 read with 120(b) and BP Act 135(1). Accused No 22 Suresh Langda Chara has also been convicted under Sections 354 and 376 (sections that deal with rape and gender violence). Maya Kodnani was convicted under Sections 295, 427, 435, 436, 440, 153, 153a, 153a(ii), 323, 324, 325, 326, 302, 307, 120-B of the IPC. Babu Bajrangi has been convicted under sections 143, 144, 147, 148 with 149, 295, 427, 435, 436, 440, 153, 153a, 153a(ii), 323,324,325,326, 302, 307 read with 149 read with 120-B.

The raw courage of the victim witnesses, especially women witnesses who deposed fearlessly while still residing in Naroda Patiya is a reflection of the confidence generated after the Supreme Court monitoring and the protection from Central Paramilitary forces provided by the Supreme Court. CJP had applied to the apex court for protection of eye witnesses. CJP through its legal team advocates provided legal aid to about 70 eyewitnesses since 2009.
 
Eleven eyewitnesses had deposed in eye witnesses testimonies assigning in detail the role played by Smt Maya Kodnani, in inciting the mob to murder, fifteen witnesses deposed through eye witness testimonies against Babu Bajrangi, 48 witnesses testified to the crimes committed by Suresh @ Langda Chara including the offences of gender violence and rape. It was the genuine evidence, given under much therat and intimidation, given by eye witness testimonies that enabled convictions. Corroborative evidence was provided through the phone call records provided by police officer Rahul Sharma and Tehelka’s Operation Kalank. Without eye witness testimonies whoever convictions could not have taken place.
 
Victim witnesses supported by CJP had also filed separate applications under Section 319 praying for police officer and then first PI KK Mysorewala to be arraigned as accused along with former Commissioner of Police PC Pandey and SRP official Dhantaniya. While the Judge rejected these applications, she has observed in the victim application for compensation for rape and gender violence that the application would be considered in the final judgement.


Also Read
Excerpts of Women Testimonies on 376 Violations (Gender Violence) Naroda Patiya Trial

 
Names of accused who have been convicted. Naresh Agarsinh Chara (accused 1); Murlibhai Naranbhai Sindhi (accused 2); Ganpat Chanaji Deedawala (accused 4); Vikrambhai Maneklal Rathod (accused 5); Haresh @ Hariyo S/o Jivanlal @ Agarsinh Rathod (accused 10); Babubhai @ Babu Bajrangi Rajabhai Patel (accused 18), Kishan Khubchand Korani (accused 20); Prakashbhai Sureshbhai Rathod (Chara) (accused  21); Suresh @ Richard @ Langdi Kantibhai Dedawala (Chara) (accused 22); Premchand @ Tiwari Conductor (accused 25); Suresh @ Sehjad Dalubhai (Marathi, Charo) (absconding) (accused 26); Nawab @ Kalu Bhaiyo Harisinh Rathod (accused 27); Manubhai Keshavbhai Maruda (Bhangi) (accused 28); Shashikant @ Tiniyo Marathi Yuvraj Patil (accused 30); Babubhai Jethabhai Salat (accused 33); Lakshmanbhai @ Lakho Budhaji Thakor (accused 34); Dr. Mayaben Surendrabhai Kodnani  (accused 37);  Ashok Hundaldas Sindhi (accused 38); Harshad @ Mungda Govind Chara (Parmar) (accused 39); Mukesh @ Vakil Ratilal Rathod (accused 40); Manojbhai @ Manoj Sinhi Renumal Kukrani (accused 41); Hiraji @ Hero Marwadi @ Sonaji Danaji Medhwan (Marwadi) (accused 42); Bipinbhai @ Bipin autowala Umedray Panchal (accused 44); Ashokbhai Uttamchand Korani (Sindhi) (accused 45); Vijaykumar Takhubhai Parmar (accused 46); Ramesh Keshavlal Dedawala (Chara) (accused 47); Sachin Nagindas Modi (accused 52); Vilas @ Viliyo Prakashbhai Sonar (accused 53); Dinesh @ Tiniyo Govindbhai Barange (Marathi) (accused 55); Santoshkumar Kodumal Mulchandani  (accused 58); Pintu Dalpatbhai Jadeja (Chara) (accused 60); Kirpalsinh Jagbahadursinh Chabda (accused 62).

 Eight charge sheets were filed in this historic case that lasted several months. It was one of the nine cases being supervised by the Supreme Court and was investigated by the SIT.
 
What did some key witnesses say?
Aminaben Abbasbhai Belim, prosecution witness number 52, testified with clarity about the incident occurred on 28.2.2002 and more particularly the huge mob gathered in front of Noorani Masjid. She had spotted accused No.37 – Maya Kodnani and accused No.62 (Kishan Korani)– her assistant getting down from the white Maruti Car, instigating the members of the mob by telling the mob to finish the Muslim area and she was present in the Khakhi Uniform, and she heard whatever stated by accused No.37 Mayaben and thereafter the members of the mob started pelting the stones, damaging the houses, etc.  This witness also witnessed the accused No.37 firing from the pistol like weapon and thereafter left in the car. This witness also spotted a truck containing gas cylinders and kerosene carboys that were used by the mob to attack. Members of the mob consumed alcohol and snacks on the road in the presence of the police before proceeding to attack innocents.

In her examination in chief, Aminaben had stated so that the truck containing the gas cylinders had arrived and members of the mob had access to the kerosene carboy, petrol carboys, had been drunk on alcohol and eating snacks, before they attacked innocents. This eye witness was herself hiding as she watched these horrific developments. She has also witnessed firing by leaders of the mob using a gun. She tried in vain to get help from the polive (PI KK Mysorewala refused to help though approached by this witness) control room from a local phone booth and this fact has been established by investigation. She was dressed in a khakhi uniform and this fact too was coorborated by other witnessed.

This witness also witnessed the incident of the killing of the family members of a Muslim Watchman near Mahavir Hall as well as the killing of Vermaji, wrongly believed to be the Muslim person and thereafter she went to hide herself at under construction building of Yasinbhai and thereafter took shelter in the house of daughter of Mohmedhusein where she stayed there for 2 hours wherein she witnessed the incident of ransacking of her house as well as from the Masjid Chali she witnessed the incident of accused No.44 – Bipinbhai resorting to the firing from the terrace of his garage.

This witness also stated to have witnessed the S.R.P. personnel ransacking and looting cash and other valuables from the households of Muslims. Since she could not trace her son Naeem she remained in the Masjid Ni Chali for the whole night and reached the Shah Alam camp the next day around 5 p.m. in a police vehicle.
 
In the appeal filed in the Gujarat high court, the high profile defence counsel attempted to bring the omissions and contradictions in the evidence of this witness.

Another prosecution witness (no 104) Mohammad Salim Mohammad Hussain Shaikh, a resident of Husseinnagar in Naroda Patiya has also beene explicit in his tetsimony. He has specifically narrated how the mob was allowed to gather at about 9 to 9.30 AM while he was drinking tea at Milan Hotel.  He has spotted and identified many of the accused being armed with lethal weapons in the mob of 1500 persons. In panic, he informed his brother, ran to his home in the chawl and then went out on the road: there he again spotted the mob led by many accused persons wherein A/37 Maya Kodnani came in a Maruti fronti car, interacted with A/20, A/2 and A/41 from among the mob, thereafter called upon the mob to come near to her, said something to the mob and thereafter left in her car. According to this witnessed testimony, it was after this instruction and visit by Kodnani that the mob launched an assaulted on the Muslim area and two persons have lost their lives in the private firing. This witness then took shelter in the SRP Headquarters by about t 10.30 to 11.00 AM.  Hispresence at the spot in the morning where he identifies four accused from the mob was established. The defence tried to discredit the witness by accusing him of exaggerating numbers in the mob (20-25,000) as appears in his statement before the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. He clearly stated that this was not a figure given to the Crime Branch by him at all. The investigation by the Crime Branch has been criticised for its unprofessionalism. In April 2002, in a controversial decision the Ahmedabad police had transferrd the investigation to the Crime Branch (officers Tarun Barot and NK Amin). During the cross examination, the defence has admitted to the presence of Maya Kodnani at the spot but construed it as ‘concern for her voters’ that had brought her there and tried to give a further twist to say that she was in fact instructing the police to come to the aid of the Muslims being targeted!

A third witness (PW 156)Abdul Majid lost his wife and eight children in the ghatsly Naroday Patiya massacre. He too has testified with clarity on then BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani coming to the spot after the mob had gathered at Kubernagar and Krishnanagar armed with lethal weapons. Kodnani, according to this eye witness account, comes with police cars from which three large black boxes were taken out.  Kodnani is then supposed to have instigated the mob because arson attacks started. Two persons, both Muslims, Abid and Hasan Qureshi got injured in the firing by Muslims. One Khadir, autorickshaw driver was killed near public toilets of jawannagar chawl.
 
Another witness, prosecution witness number 192, RashidaBanuImtiyaz HusseinMomin was also key to the prosecution. Her family runs a small grocery shop at Husseinnagar. She testified on what what she saw when she went to the tea stall around 7.30- 8 a.m. so that her son Imran could go for breakfast. Police insisted that they shut the shop due to the VHP’s call for a Gujarat bandh. Just at the time they were proceeding to close the establishment and bring their possessions to their home, at Gali No.1, around this time this witness had gone to the corner of S.T. workshop and spotted two sets of mobs coming from Nataraj hotel side and Krishnanagar side. The members of both the mobs were pelting the stones towards them as well as Noorani Masjid and in that scuffle this witness identified accused No.37,MayabenKodnani, accused No.41,ManojVideowala, accused No.44,BipinAutowala, accused No.58, SantoshDudhwala, accused No.1, NareshChhara, accused No.22, Suresh Langada and his brother and accused Gudduchhara (since deceased), while accused No.37 was reportedly heard by the witness saying that ‘march ahead and kill them’. In this way, this witness testified to the former MLA instigating the members of the mob. She was also witness to criminal activities of the mob, how members of the mob slowly progressed towards them and first of all the witness went on the terrace of her own house wherein she spotted the members of the mob assaulting upon victims and hence she came down from her house and she took her children and reached a safer place at Pinjara’s terrace. She sustained injuries from a hockey stick as she fled to escape and her daughter  Shamimbanu also received injuries from burns. Thereafter she also witnessed, from the terrace of Ramzanibhai that the members of the mob were engaged in arson, assaulting and killing and hacking the Muslims and thus she along with others stayed there till 12.00 to 12.30 O’clock in the late night of Feebruary 28, until the police took them to the relief camp. Essentially, the defence tried to discredit her testimony through ommissions and contraductions but she stood her ground in cross examination.
 
SiddikbhaiAlabuxMansuri is PW 236 and this witness has, in his testimony, categorically stated about the presence of accused No.37, Mayaben in front of Nataraj Hotel at about 8.00 to 9.00 O’clock in the morning with his P.A. accsed No.62 – Kirpalsing and delivered provocative speech and excited the mob and soon after the leaving the place by accused No.37, the mob started pelting the stones, towards Noorani Masjid.  Further this witness has also stated that, in a second incident, MayabenKodnani in white Marutifronty car with Trax Jeep and met the other co-accused persons and distributed the weapons to them and immediately thereafter the frenzied attack re-doubled in its intensity.Though confronted in cross examination, this witness specifically sticks to his earlier version as stated in the chief in examination. The defence only brought out the contradiction with respect to the helmet worn by Accused-37 Mayaben which does not, in any way, so significant to discredit the version the witness.
 
Related Articles:
1.Witness File Application for Free Access to Papers in NarodaPatiya Appeal :Gujarat HC, December 2016
2.Maya Kodnani Appeal: 7th Judge Recuses, Why was Advocate Engaged at the Last Minute asks HC
3.Justice Delivered, The NarodaPatiya Verdict