Deconstructing Godhra

Courtesy: AP

The alleged torching alive of 59 persons in coach number S-6 of the Sabarmati Express returning from Faizabad (Ayodhya) to Ahmedabad at the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, became the sordid justification for unleashing the post-Godhra carnage across Gujarat. The incident was first described by the district collector, Jayanti Ravi, to be an accident. But from 7.30 p.m. onwards the same evening, Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state, started portraying it as a conspiracy inspired by Pakistan’s ISI.

On the afternoon of February 27, in parliament, the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee described the incident as an accident. Weeks later, at the BJP’s national meet in Goa, he too fell in line, justifying the post-Godhra carnage with his famous "agar Godhra na hota to Gujarat na hota" (If Godhra had not happened Gujarat, too, would not have happened). The sangh parivar’s Goebbelian propaganda machine relayed this message of "Muslim aggression" and "Hindu retaliation" throughout the country and abroad. Riding high on the carnage, Modi called a snap poll and romped back to power in 2002.

The report of a three member fact-finding team from Delhi, brought out by Sahmat, New Delhi (March 18, 2002), CC’s special issue, "Gujarat – Genocide 2002" (March-April 2002), and most importantly, the report of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, Crime Against Humanity, authored by a panel headed by former judges of the supreme court, justices VR Krishna Iyer and PB Sawant (November 2002), were the first efforts at deconstructing the Godhra lie. The mainstream national media, which is often faulted for its failure to do a systematic follow-up on tragedies, kept a keen watch post-Godhra. Two reports in The Times of India, the first based on statements of policemen on the spot, the second on the findings of the Ahmedabad based Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), also confirmed the attempts to manipulate Godhra to political advantage.

Since 2002, two significant legal efforts have taken this exercise further. One is the voluminous evidence placed on record before the Nanavati-Shah Commission by advocate Mukul Sinha of the Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM). Building on the evidence available, the JSM has systematically deconstructed the Godhra lie. The other is the petition by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in the Supreme Court, documenting the rank injustice meted out to the accused. CJP has filed a transfer petition urging that the Godhra trial also be reinvestigated by an independent agency and transferred out of Gujarat. The petition is supported by five families of Hindu victims of the coach burning. It was the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that had originally recommended this action in its first report on Gujarat. Thereafter, it also filed a transfer petition in the apex court. Over five years after the carnage, 84 accused in the Godhra arson case remain in jail. Repeated pleas to at least grant bail to the accused have yet to be given a proper hearing by the highest court in the land.

On November 21, 2003 the Supreme Court stayed 14 trials in Gujarat, including the one related to the Godhra burning. This has not deterred the Gujarat police from continuing a politically motivated investigation into the incident. But no such further investigations have been made by the same police into the post-Godhra massacres, Naroda Gaon and Patiya, Gulberg Society, Ode and Sardarpura.

There is no clear evidence that any person in Gujarat (except, perhaps, members of the VHP) knew of the specific date on which kar sevaks would travel from Ayodhya to Gujarat. Central, state and local intelligence agencies have in fact deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission stating that they did not have any information about the kar sevaks’ travel plans

Here we bring to CC’s readers the deconstruction of the Godhra lie, relying on the sources of information mentioned above.


In 1933, a young arsonist named Marinus van der Lubbe from Holland had been wandering around Berlin for a week, attempting to burn government buildings. The exact sequence of events will never be known but Nazi storm troopers, under Nazi leader, Hermann Göring’s direction, befriended the arsonist and helped him to burn the Reichstag (German parliament) that night.

The storm troopers, led by SA leader, Karl Ernst, used the underground tunnel that connected Göring’s residence with the cellar in the Reichstag. They entered the building, scattered gasoline and hurried back through the tunnel to safety. The Reichstag was set on fire on February 27, 1933.

Following the arrest of the Dutch arsonist, Adolf Hitler became enraged: "The German people have been soft too long. Every Communist official must be shot. All Communist deputies must be hanged this very night. All friends of the Communists must be locked up."

Leaving the scene of the fire, Hitler went straight to the office of his newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, to personally oversee news coverage of the fire. He stayed up all night with Goebbels to put together a paper full of tales of an alleged communist plot to violently seize power in Berlin. Over 4,000 communists were killed thereafter.

VHP’s ‘Chalo Ayodhya’

It all began with the VHP’s mobilisation for a programme in Ayodhya, which they called ‘Purnahuti Maha Yagna’.

Three groups from Gujarat, consisting of about 2,000 Ram bhakts (devotees) each, were to go to Ayodhya for kar seva. The first group of about 2,200 Ram sevaks was to leave Ahmedabad on February 22, 2002.

They left for Ayodhya, as planned, on February 22 and began their return journey to Ahmedabad by the Sabarmati Express on February 25, 2002.

There is no clear evidence that any person in Gujarat (except, perhaps, members of the VHP) knew of the specific date on which kar sevaks would travel from Ayodhya to Gujarat i.e. on February 25. Central, state and local intelligence agencies have in fact deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission stating that they did not have any information about the kar sevaks’ travel plans.

CJP and CC have studied the detailed intelligence records submitted before the commission. While the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB), Gujarat, had sent several missives warning of communal mobilisation by kar sevaks, especially regarding their travel to Ayodhya from different locations in Gujarat, the absence of adequate reports from central or Uttar Pradesh intelligence departments regarding their return journey, and their belligerent and aggressive behaviour on the return journey, is significant. The only letter that arrived from central intelligence about the kar sevaks’ return was received by the Gujarat SIB a day after the Godhra tragedy i.e. on February 28, 2002. In the absence of specific information about the kar sevaks’ return journey, there could have been no conspiracy hatched by any person to burn coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27.

Chief minister sets the agenda

Yet on February 27, the chief minister made the following press statement which was widely publicised all over Gujarat: "The abominable event that has occurred in Godhra does not befit any civilised society…it is not a communal event but is a one-sided collective terrorist attack by one community…" He further said that this was not a simple incident of violence or a communal event but a "pre-planned incident".

Who could fit the "international terrorist" label?

They found a maulana – Maulana Umerji – and booked him a whole year after the incident had occurred. Who was this "terrorist"? An old, semi-invalid, respected Muslim leader from the Ghanchi Community in Godhra who ran a riot relief camp at the Iqbal Primary School from March 2002 until August 2002. The maulana was a senior and respected member of his community who had consistently galvanised resources for national tragedies, including the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, from Godhra’s citizenry.

Narendra Modi: Plotting a conspiracy theory

Arrival of Sabarmati Express at Godhra

At 7.43 a.m. on February 27 the Sabarmati Express from Ayodhya arrived on platform No 1 at Godhra railway station. The train was nearly five hours late. In their statements – nearly identical in content – before the police and later, before the commission, Sheelaben Virpal, Punamkumari Tiwari, Satishkumar Ravidutt Mishra, Sadhwiji Minakshi Deviji, a kar sevak, and Savitaben Tribhovandas Sadhu, an activist of the VHP, stated that there had been a quarrel on the platform with some tea vendors.

There was also a reported incident involving the attempted abduction of a Muslim girl by kar sevaks. In statements dated February 28 and recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC, Sophia Bano M. Shaikh, a minor, her mother and her sister all stated that some kar sevaks had tried to molest Sophia and pull her into the train. While the FSL report was filed along with the first charge sheet, the statements by Sophia Shaikh and her family were initially kept out it.

Sophia Shaikh also deposed before the commission where she stated: "The persons wearing saffron bands came down on the platform for tea and snacks. They took their tea and snacks and at that time one bearded person was there whom the persons wearing the saffron bands started beating for some reason. Seeing this, we got scared and we went away a little far. In the meantime one person wearing saffron band came and he covered my mouth and started dragging me towards the station.

"As I started shouting, he released me. As this incident happened, I went inside the platform, near the ticket counter. Along with me, my mother and sister also went inside. We people had become very scared because of which we postponed the idea of going to Vadodara and decided to go back to my auntie."

There are many similar evidences to establish that there was indeed a scuffle between some kar sevaks and the tea vendor on the platform of Godhra station, and that the kar sevaks had prevented a Muslim tea vendor from serving tea inside coach S-6 and even pushed him out of the train.

A railway guard, Pachuram Verma, has deposed before the commission stating that the chain was pulled soon after the train had left Godhra station and was only a short distance from it, and that the driver had informed him of this fact.

His statement says: "At 8.00 a.m., the train had started and at this time persons wearing saffron head and neck bands came running and boarded the train. I came to know that the chain pulling had happened because these kar sevaks had not been able to get up. I did not take any action since there was a big crowd of kar sevaks and I could not know who had specifically pulled the chain."

It is therefore quite clear that the chain was first pulled from within the train itself. Some of the kar sevaks who had got off the train were left behind on the platform when the train started at 7.48 a.m. In all probability, therefore, these were the kar sevaks involved in the scuffle with the tea vendor, because of which they did not notice that the train had started.

The conflict after the first chain pulling

After the chain was first pulled, the engine stopped just beyond the platform with coach S-6 coming to a halt near the parcel office. By this time, due to the altercation at the station and especially as news had spread that a Muslim girl had been abducted by kar sevaks, a crowd of local Muslims had gathered behind the parcel office.

Another eyewitness, a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable named Mohan Jagdish Yadav has deposed before the commission: "We saw stone throwing between the train passengers and the outside people. Some passengers were shouting slogans of Jai Shri Ram. We told those passengers to go and sit in the train and raising our sticks we told the outsiders to go away and chased them away. The passengers who were shouting and throwing stones were passengers of two coaches. The people who were throwing stones from Signal Falia were doing so from behind the wall and some of them were trying to jump across the wall to enter the station."

The train then started moving but stopped again, coming to a halt near the ‘A’ cabin.

How did the train stop near the ‘A’ cabin?

Six months after the incident, the Gujarat government extracted two confessions, from Anwar Kalandar and another Muslim boy. They ‘confessed’ that they had stopped the train by boarding the running train and rotating the ‘alarm chain disc’ from outside.

Kalandar subsequently withdrew his confession, claiming it was extracted under torture. However, what is even more significant is the information that since 1995 the railways have modified the design of the alarm chain pulling system (ACP) to curb its misuse. (To escape a check, ticketless passengers jumped off/on the train by rotating the disc from outside to stop the train beyond platform limits.) This fact obviously escaped the Gujarat police’s attention while they were extracting a confession from Kalandar.

On an enquiry made of the railway authorities by the JSM during commission proceedings it was learnt that all 18 coaches of the Sabarmati Express possessed the modified alarm chain system. Therefore the train’s vacuum brakes could not have been activated by turning the alarm disc from outside. The ACP can only be operated from inside the coaches and corrected from outside.

From categorical statements made by both the guard and the assistant driver of the train it is clear that on that day they had corrected the ACPs in four coaches of the Sabarmati Express. Railway Guard Verma has deposed that he along with assistant driver, Mukesh Pachhori, had corrected the chain pulling of four coaches (Nos. 83101, 5343, 91263 and 88238) when the kar sevaks first pulled the chain. From this view of the matter, the ACP of a fifth coach (No. 90238), noticed by another railway official, Harimohan Mina, whose statement has been recorded, was not corrected.

To correct a chain pulling, railway employees have to physically rotate the alarm disc to reset the clappet valve. In this case, while the first chain pulling was done from five coaches, the ACP was only put right in four coaches thereby leaving one clappet valve uncorrected. This was the reason why the driver dragged the train up to the ‘A’ cabin but could not go further.

In his deposition, Rajendraprasad Misrilal Mina, the assistant stationmaster (ASM), an eyewitness, stated: "On February 27, 2002 I was on duty as assistant stationmaster at `A’ cabin of Godhra railway station from 12 at night to morning up to 8.00 a.m. Sabarmati Express train arrived at Godhra railway station at 7.43 a.m. Since the line was clear, departure signal was given at 7.45 a.m. The train started at 7.48 a.m. After some time the train stopped by blowing the whistle. I could see from the cabin that the train had stopped. At that time no crowd was seen between ‘A’ cabin and the train.

"When the train started again I looked at the clock in the cabin and the time was 7.55 a.m. When the train reached near the cabin I was standing near window of the cabin for showing ‘alright’ signal. When the train arrived at ‘A’ cabin, the engine was blowing the whistle indicating chain pulling. The period between the restarting of the train and its arrival at ‘A’ cabin would have been around five to six minutes. I did not see any crowd at that time. It was about 8 o’clock when the train had stopped.

"When the train was moving with slow speed I had seen a crowd running towards and along with the train. When I got down from the cabin, at that time some people from the crowd had come near the cabin. Few persons from the mob were throwing stones on the train…

"The mob did not arrive together but 10 to 15 persons were coming and gathering… There were women and children also in the mob. I did not see personally as to who set the fire and how."

What did the district superintendent of police, Raju Bishankumar Bhargav, see inside coach S-6?

Bhargav’s deposition before the commission is very important so as to comprehend the severity of the fire and the speed with which it spread. He said that he had reached the burning coach at about 8.30 a.m. i.e. barely 15-17 minutes after the fire began.

Bhargav said he saw people with blackened faces and with some burn injuries to the head, coming out of the coach. He saw 10 or 12 passengers coming out of the coach; they were coming out of the coach door on the Godhra town side. The injuries that he noticed were on the upper part of passengers’ bodies. He did not notice any injuries below the waist area.

Bhargav said that he did not see any flames rising in the part of the coach that he could see from the doorway. "I had seen only smoke in that area… I had not noticed any flames on the floor of the area between the two doors. I had also not smelt any inflammable fuel like petrol, kerosene, diesel, etc."

The Gujarat government’s version of the cause of the fire

It is in the second charge sheet filed on September 20, 2002, that (i) the burning from inside story evolves into a conspiracy carried out by a core group; (ii) the spontaneous collection of a mob on hearing that a girl was pulled into the train is alleged; (iii) Chain pulling is said to have been done by Anwar Kalandar who is not made an accused because it is tacitly accepted that he did this to protect the girl. The first charge sheet, which details the altercations between the kar sevaks and the vendors, has no mention of any conspiracy.

The fourth charge sheet added the terrorist conspiracy angle. Thereafter, up to the present 16th supplementary charge sheet, the police version has not changed qualitatively. The case made out in the second and third charge sheets was "refined" by adding a "conspiracy" story. According to the police, the conspiracy was hatched by Razak Kurkure, Salim Panwala, Haji Bilal and a few others in room No. 8 of the Aman Guest House (owned by Razak Kurkure) at around 9 p.m. on February 26, 2002.

The alleged conspiracy included the plan to set fire to the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. For that purpose, 140 litres of petrol was allegedly bought from Kalabhai’s petrol pump the previous night and kept in Kurkure’s house. It is alleged that at around 9.30-10 p.m. on February 26, 2002, Maulana Umerji had directed that coach S-6 should be set on fire.

The entire charge by the prosecution (Gujarat government) that coach S-6 was burnt down in pursuance of a pre-planned conspiracy rests on an FSL report which mentions that some residual hydrocarbons were found in samples collected from the site and that petrol was found in two carboys.

The reliability of the FSL report on samples collected from the site is highly doubtful. Hundreds of onlookers and visitors, including the chief minister and other ministers, had visited the site and also entered coach S-6 before the samples were collected. Suspect material could easily have been removed from inside the coach. Equally, what the FSL found inside the coach could well have been planted from outside.

The FSL report dated March 20, 2002 was accessible to the investigation officer (IO), KC Bawa, before he filed the first charge sheet on May 5, 2002. Yet the charge sheet made no specific allegation about the use of petrol in torching coach S-6. Bawa’s first charge sheet was quite vague: "At that time the accused armed with deadly weapons and highly inflammable fluids filled in cans and shouting slogans, ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, ‘Hindustan Murdabad’, burnt down the coach S-6".

The big question is why did the IO refuse to specify the fluid that was allegedly used by the "conspirators"?

It appears therefore that initially the investigation began in right earnest. The two petrol pumps near Godhra station were sealed off by the police on February 27, 2002. The first petrol pump, on Vejalpur road, was owned by MH & A. Patel while the other was owned by Asgarali Qurban Hussein (Kalabhai).

On April 9, 2002, seven samples of petrol and diesel were collected from these petrol pumps and panchnamas were made. These samples, four samples of diesel marked A, B, E and F, and three samples of petrol marked C, D (from Kalabhai’s pump) and H (from MH & A. Patel’s pump), were sent for forensic examination to find out whether the petrol or diesel from these pumps had been used to burn coach S-6.

In his report dated April 26, 2002, DB Talati, assistant director, FSL, said that samples A, B, E and F contained diesel while C, D and H contained petrol. He added however that he could not give a clear opinion on whether the petrol detected in some samples in and around coach S-6 as per the FSL report dated March 20, 2002 and the petrol detected in samples C, D and H came from the same source.

The fatal blow to the prosecution’s "petrol theory" was delivered by two employees of Kalabhai’s petrol pump, Prabhatsinh G. Patel and Ranjitsinh J. Patel. In their statements recorded on April 10, 2002, the two men flatly denied having sold any loose petrol to anybody, adding that they did not sell loose petrol from their pump. Thus the police had no source whence they could allege the accused had procured the petrol. Strangely, the police did not question any employees of the petrol pump owned by MH & A. Patel; they only questioned its owners.

The charge sheet filed by KC Bawa on May 22, 2002 therefore "created" evidence to establish that coach S-6 was burnt from outside using some inflammable liquid. Bawa "recorded" the statements of nine important eyewitnesses between February 27 and March 15, 2002, namely, Janaklal K. Dave, Rajeshbhai V. Darji, Nitinkumar Harprasad Pathak, Dilipbhai U. Dasariya, Muralidhar R. Mulchandani (reportedly, the current vice-president of Godhra Nagarpalika), Dipakbhai M. Soni, Harsukhlal T. Advani, Chandrashekhar N. Sonaiya and Manoj H. Advani.

All nine of these eyewitnesses, who declared themselves to be active members of the VHP, made identical statements to the effect that they had gone to Godhra station on the morning of February 27 to meet the kar sevaks who were returning from Ayodhya and offer them tea and breakfast.

They gave the following identical statements: "…the train was standing near ‘A’ cabin; at that time, men, women and children numbering around 900-1,000 persons from Signal Falia started running towards the stationary train while howling and shouting; because of this me and other local activists ran towards where the train was standing and reached ‘A’ cabin and saw that people from Signal Falia came running there with weapons like dhariya, sword, iron pipes and sticks. Others started heavily stoning the train. These people were shouting slogans like "Sale Hinduonko kaat daalo, Mandir banane jaate hai, kaat daalo" (Cut up the Hindus; cut up those who have gone to construct a temple), etc. Five-six persons with carboys in their hands were sprinkling the fluid on one coach and they set it on fire and we kept standing at the side of ‘A’ cabin.

There are many similar evidences to establish that there was indeed a scuffle between some kar sevaks and the tea vendor on the platform of Godhra station, and that the kar sevaks had prevented a Muslim tea vendor from serving tea inside coach S-6 and even pushed him out of the train

"In this mob, I saw from the village of Godhra, R. Amin Hussein Hathila…" In their respective statements the nine eyewitnesses named around four Muslims each. The 36 Muslims thus named by these eyewitnesses were arrested for burning down the coach from outside. Those arrested included Haji Bilal and Mohammad Hussein Kalota (the then president of the Godhra Nagarpalika). Not one of these nine eyewitnesses, who claimed to be standing beside the ‘A’ cabin, said a word about Jabir Binyamin Behra and others arriving in a tempo with seven or eight carboys of petrol, climbing into coach S-6 by cutting through the vestibule and so on.

After making out a case that coach S-6 was burnt from outside, Bawa started discovering any number of carboys containing traces of kerosene from around the ‘A’ cabin. All this to build up the case that the fluid used to burn coach S-6 was kerosene. Between March 29 and April 5 three carboys were allegedly recovered from three of the accused, Haji Bilal, Abdul Majid Dhantiya and Kasim Biryani.

Since Bilal was considered to be the main conspirator at the time, along with Kalota, the kerosene theory was accepted. In his report dated April 26, 2002, DB Talati said he had found traces of kerosene in the three carboys that were sent to him for examination! The kerosene theory prevailed until the beginning of July 2002. From then on the new investigation officer, Noel Parmar, had more refined ideas and fuel in mind.

Even the prosecution’s star "eyewitness", Ajaykumar Kanubhai Bariya, who for the first time narrated the absurd story of the accused entering coach S-6 by cutting through the vestibule between coaches S-6 and S-7, did not allege that petrol was used to burn coach S-6 in his statement on July 9, 2002. This is what Bariya said, "…after some time I saw Rafique Bhatuk come with the carbo and give it to Irfan Bhopa and he told me, ‘Put this carbo in the rickshaw’. I kept that carbo in the rickshaw as I was very scared. The smell like kerosene was coming out from the carbo…"

Switch over

The primary motivation to introduce "petrol" as the ostensible fuel used by the alleged conspirators along with the theory that coach S-6 had been set alight from inside was the May 2002 report by Dr MS Dahiya, director of the FSL, Ahmedabad. Dahiya opined that coach S-6 could not have been burnt from outside. His report also said that it would take 60 litres of petrol poured inside the coach to burn the same. Dahiya’s report apparently did not reach Bawa in time for him to realise that his theory that the coach was burnt from outside using kerosene would contradict a report based on scientific analysis!

An enormous amount of material (370 kilos of burnt out remains) from inside coach S-6 was once again collected on May 1, 2002 and sent for forensic examination. The FSL report No. 2002/c/594 dated May 17, 2002 did not however find any trace of petrol in the residues from inside the coach. One yellow carboy showed some traces of petrol. But this carboy does not figure in the subsequent story.

The entire "petrol" theory hinges on Jabir Binyamin Behra’s "confession" dated February 5, 2003. According to this "confession", at about 9 p.m. on February 26, 2002, Razak Kurkure asked Behra to accompany him to fetch petrol from Kalabhai’s petrol pump. Behra and a few others, with seven 20-litre carboys, went there in a tempo. After the carboys were filled up, they were brought back and kept in Kurkure’s room located behind Aman Guest House. This petrol was then used to set fire to coach S-6 the next day.

Behra’s story is "corroborated" by the statements of two employees at Kalabhai’s petrol pump, Prabhatsinh Patel and Ranjitsinh Patel, who allegedly sold the petrol to Razak Kurkure. These were the same men who in April 2002 had already given a statement to the police categorically denying that any such sale of petrol had taken place. Further statements by both these men were recorded on February 23, March 11 and March 12, 2003.

In these statements, both of them alleged that at about 10 p.m. on February 26, 2002, Kurkure rode up on his M-80 (two-wheeler) alongside a popti (green) coloured tempo. After Salim Panwala had paid for 140 litres of petrol, Ranjitsinh filled up seven carboys with 140 litres of petrol.

The two Patels also stated that although they had given statements to the police earlier, on April 10, 2002, since the police had not asked them whether anybody had bought loose petrol from their pump on February 26, 2002, they had not disclosed these facts at the time. Since the police had only asked them about petrol being purchased by the accused on February 27, they had denied the same a year ago! This was why they were now disclosing the facts before the magistrate, a year later.

Shockingly, the April 10, 2002 statements by Prabhatsinh and Ranjitsinh Patel were only produced with the supplementary charge sheet dated April 16, 2003. These were the statements that the two men had given the day after the police had collected petrol samples from Kalabhai’s petrol pump on April 9, 2002.

Prior to the charge sheet of April 16, 2003, the two statements recorded on April 10, 2002 were not produced before the court along with earlier charge sheets. In other words, they were suppressed for over a year.

Apart from Jabir Binyamin Behra and the two employees from Kalabhai’s petrol pump, another person, Salim Zarda, who had also allegedly accompanied Razak Kurkure to Kalabhai’s petrol pump on February 26, 2002, also ‘admitted’ that the tempo was carrying seven or eight black 20-litre carboys in the tempo and that these were filled up with petrol at Kalabhai’s pump, and so on. The very petrol pump which, in fact, the police had sealed off for a fairly long period of time after the train fire was suddenly brought in as the source of a core group plan a whole year later.

So one year after the incident, the kerosene theory was suddenly abandoned in favour of petrol as the inflammatory fuel used. But the problem lies precisely in this double switch over: from kerosene to petrol, and from the earlier claim that the coach was burnt from outside to the new theory that the coach was set fire to from inside. The contradictions are so glaring, they make the investigation a complete charade. Truth, of course, is the biggest victim.

It appears that when there was little evidence to support the prosecution’s case, a statement by Jabir Behra was recorded (which was also done in violation of the law) after which Prabhatsinh and Ranjitsinh Patel were allegedly forcibly detained and their confessional statements recorded under confinement. Ahmed Kalota, the uncle of accused No. 42, Mohammad Hussein Kalota, submitted a written application to the additional sessions judge, Godhra, expressing his apprehensions about the "kidnapping" of Prabhatsinh and Ranjitsinh Patel and their illegal confessions being recorded. At the time, the press and the electronic media had reported extensively on the matter.

Another significant point is that the carboys containing traces of petrol were not found near coach S-6 but some distance away. They were found at a distant location adjacent to a Muslim-owned garage that was burnt down by kar sevaks at around 11 a.m. on the same day (February 27, 2002) as a reaction to the burning of coach S-6.


Jabir Binyamin Behra retracted his confession before the POTA court on July 28, 2003 and the retraction was recorded. He complained that the confession was extracted forcibly and that his relatives were threatened. He reiterated this before the Supreme Court as well. Behra also submitted an affidavit to the Nanavati-Shah Commission dated January 19, 2005, detailing the torture and coercion used to extract his confession. His confession should therefore be treated as wholly involuntary and cannot be relied upon.

Salim Zarda, too, submitted an application to the POTA court complaining about the torture and coercion used to extract his confession and retracted the same.

Similarly, Saukat Farouque Pataliya retracted his confessional statement before the POTA court, complaining that he was made to sign a blank confession sheet, that he had been lured and induced and that the police had even threatened to beat up his wife. Saukat Pataliya has also filed an affidavit before the commission.

Mohammad Sakir’s confession has not been produced before the court by the police, and apparently he too has retracted his statement. As for the statements made by persons who are not accused in the crime, such as Ajay Bariya, Prabhatsinh Patel or Ranjitsinh Patel, the commission cannot rely on such statements unless they are proved and the deponents are cross-examined in a rigorous manner before an appropriate forum.

As far as Anwar Kalandar is concerned, he has appeared before the commission to make a deposition. Although the police tried to prevent him from doing so, with the commission’s permission his affidavit was placed on record dated April 7, 2005.

Since the prosecution did not choose to cross-examine Kalandar it is presumed that the contents of his affidavit before the commission have been admitted by the prosecution. In his affidavit, Kalandar describes in detail the inhuman torture and the threats (of being killed in an encounter) that he was subjected to by the police in order to extract confessional statements from him. He has categorically denied the facts recorded in these statements.

Shockingly, Sikandar, a witness whose statement was produced as evidence by the police, is also listed as an absconding accused, right from the first charge sheet onwards.

The moot question now is whether the commission, which is merely a fact-finding and recommendatory body, will have the jurisdiction to decide whether the confessions and statements are voluntary or otherwise before they can be used or be considered reliable. As the matter stands, a competent court (trial court) has yet to decide on the issue and therefore the commission cannot, under law, rely upon these statements/confessions to arrive at any conclusions.

Whose conspiracy?

Modi had obviously decided on the motives and identity of those who had set coach S-6 on fire by the evening of February 27, 2002 itself. The investigators in the Godhra arson case are not investigating the case at all but doing everything they possibly can to prove the state’s chief executive right!

The conspiracy theory has been developed without the slightest application of mind. By using torture, coercion and the draconian provisions of the POTA law, absurd confessions have been extracted whereby a person ends up confessing to having done something that it was impossible to do. As pointed out earlier, it was impossible to stop the train by rotating the alarm disc from outside because of the modifications in design. Yet the investigators forced such a "confession" to support their claim that Salim Panwala had instigated Muslim hawkers to stop the train near the ‘A’ cabin as part of a "pre-planned conspiracy".

While extracting "confessions" from Anwar Kalandar and Iliyas Hussein Mulla, several other blunders were made. Kalandar is made to say that the first chain pulling was carried out to enable kar sevaks who were left behind on the platform to board the train. After the train restarted at 7.48 a.m. Salim came running up from the direction of the parcel office and urged Kalandar to stop the train because a Muslim girl was being abducted.

Kalandar also "confesses" that Iliyas Hussein Mulla and Hussein Suleman also came running up with Salim to the pani ni parab (water distribution outlet) where Kalandar was standing and due to Salim’s urging the three of them jumped onto three different compartments of the Sabarmati Express. Kalandar does not say that Salim had told him to stop the train at the ‘A’ cabin!

In his statement dated August 2, 2002, Iliyas Hussein Mulla states that he was selling his wares on coach S-9 of the Sabarmati Express when it first arrived at the station. He further stated that at that time, before the chain was first pulled, Salim Panwala was standing near the bookstall on platform No. 1. He states that it was Salim who told him to jump into the S-9 coach and pull the chain when the coach approached the parcel office (not at the ‘A’ cabin).

He adds that he did pull the chain when the train approached the parcel office and then ran out of the station, went to Signal Falia and waited near the Aman Guest House. He did not know where Saukat and Hussein got off the train.

Iliyas Mulla goes on to state that during the period when the train had stopped near the parcel office (i.e. between 7.48 a.m. and 7.55 a.m.), Razak Kurkure came and told him to once again go and pull the chain to stop the train near the ‘A’ cabin. Iliyas then came through a breach in the wall in front of Aman Guest House and jumped onto coach S-4 of the running train. This time around he only saw Salim from a distance. Thus Iliyas Hussein Mulla wholly contradicts Anwar Kalandar who said that Salim Panwala had told Anwar, Iliyas and Hussein together to stop the train.

Interestingly, Jabir Binyamin Behra states that while stone throwing was going on from behind the parcel office, he along with some others ran towards the Aman Guest House where he saw Razak Kurkure and Salim Panwala coming out though the back door of a room at the guest house!

He also said that he and some others had been told to bring the tempo carrying the carboys to a spot behind the ‘A’ cabin and as they were going towards the ‘A’ cabin he spotted Salim Panwala and Kurkure on a two-wheeler.

Thus whereas Kalandar and Iliyas Mulla say they saw Salim Panwala at the station even up to 7.55 a.m. i.e. until the train started after the chain pulling, Jabir places Salim inside the Aman Guest House during the stone throwing period and thereafter. The main executor of the conspiracy, Salim Panwala, appears to be omnipresent.

One year after the incident, the kerosene theory was suddenly abandoned in favour of petrol as the inflammatory fuel used. But the problem lies precisely in this double switch over: from kerosene to petrol, and from the earlier claim that the coach was burnt from outside to the new theory that the coach was set fire to from inside. The contradictions are so glaring, they make the investigation a complete charade

Iliyas, who boasts of his skills as an expert chain puller, states that on the second occasion he had jumped onto the footboard of coach S-4, towards the platform side. He then had to go through a tear in the canvas between the vestibule of coaches S-4 and S-5 to reach the northern side in order to reach and rotate the alarm disc, which, he claims, was located only on the northern side. This chain pulling expert seems unaware that there are two alarm discs on both sides at one end of every railway coach manufactured in India.

The most glaring omission in the prosecution’s tale is however its silence about what the conspirators’ original plan, was, had the train not been delayed by several hours. The VHP has alleged that if the train had arrived at the correct time, the plan was to set fire to the entire train at Chanchelav, a village about 12 to 14 km from Godhra (towards Dahod), around midnight. But the Sabarmati Express has no scheduled halt there. The VHP has so far not disclosed how in its view the conspirators planned to stop the train at midnight when its activists had not allowed anyone to even board the train from Lucknow onwards.

The fact is that if the kar sevaks had not pulled the chain to pick up their colleagues who had been left behind at Godhra station, the Sabarmati Express would have passed through Godhra without a hitch and saved the nation one of its greatest tragedies.

While the prosecution’s entire theory revolves around the allegation that several Muslims, including Jabir Binyamin Behra, had cut through the vestibule canvas of coach S-7 to get onto the train, there is absolutely no proof of such an absurd claim.

Storm troopers of the parivar

It is evident from their statements that the nine active members of the VHP who were standing next to the ‘A’ cabin right from the beginning did not see or make any allegations about anyone climbing onto coach S-7 and cutting through the vestibule canvas. The ASM, Rajendra Mina, who was in the ‘A’ cabin at the time, also does not make any such allegation. In fact, his deposition stated that he had not seen anyone climbing onto the train. If the slashed canvas was the most vital piece of evidence in their case, why didn’t the police collect and preserve it? Why was it allowed to be sold as scrap for a few meagre rupees?

How does the prosecution explain the statement it recorded from the parcel office clerk on March 1, 2002 to the effect that after the first chain pulling at the Godhra station passengers in the train were pelting stones at the people behind the parcel office?

Where are the black plastic 20-litre carboys that were supposedly filled with petrol and brought on a tempo to a spot behind the ‘A’ cabin and from which petrol was allegedly poured into the coach? The FSL has found three carboys containing traces of kerosene and three small carboys containing traces of petrol. Why didn’t the police find a single one of these 20-litre carboys? The FSL report clearly stated that the burnt residue of materials inside the coach did not contain any residue of a "plastic container".

How will the prosecution explain the fact that the two small plastic containers that were found to have petrol in them were found not near the coach but across the tracks near the Mallas Auto garage which was burnt down by passengers and kar sevaks on the Sabarmati Express around 11 a.m. on February 27, 2002? Two trucks outside the garage were burnt using petrol. From where did the passengers get the petrol?

Why did police inspector Barot from the police control room, Gandhinagar, inform the director general of police’s office at 9.35 a.m. on February 27, 2002 that kar sevaks had set fire to three coaches of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra and that the number of injured was not yet known? Barot therefore asks the police to be vigilant.

The burning of coach S-6 – Evidence

This is a first-hand account by Hariprasad Joshi, a passenger allotted berth No. 43 on coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express: "…the smoke had reached the place where I was standing inside the coach and as I inhaled the smoke that reached there, I got suffocated and had fallen down on the floor but as the smoke was less in the lower side, my breathing was restored and I found relief… As there was a huge rush near berth No. 72 of the coach, to save my life, I travelled to the opposite side towards seat No. 1 by crawling on the floor and had reached to right hand side door. The behind of my jacket near the shoulder and jacket cap had got burnt due to flames of fire. I had burns on both the ears and on the face and I had jumped down off the coach from the door near seat No. 1.

"The moment I jumped out of the coach and fell on the ground my breathing was restored on getting the fresh air and it had then struck me that my wife was inside the coach. Therefore I had walked up to the side near the seat where myself and my wife were sitting near the window."


"Marleau had become separated from his fellow firefighters when a room in an apartment building suddenly exploded into flames in what is commonly called a flashover or backdraught… Capt Marcel Marleau, 47, died battling a fire in a Montreal apartment building… when he was caught in a backdraught, or a sudden explosion of flames…" (Dene Moore, Maclean’s Magazine, January 26, 2006).

"A sudden and sustained transition of a growing compartment fire to a fully developed fire occurs when all of the combustible materials present reach their auto-ignition temperature. Flame-over or roll-over can be an indication that flashover is imminent. It is important to note that ventilation may initially cause the fire to burn more intensely and as a result more heat energy may be released into the compartment than can be lost through the ventilation opening.

"Flashover can occur when a developing compartment fire produces flames in the thermal layer near the ceiling. The flames in the thermal layer can roll or dance across the ceiling as the unburned products of combustion ignite and burn off more completely. Heat will increase and force firefighters to the floor. This lowering of the thermal layer is often accompanied by the sudden lowering of an existing layer of smoke."

The burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 was not the result of any pre-planned conspiracy by Muslims. It was not due to petrol or inflammable fluid that coach S-6 burnt down but due to the flash fire that followed the initial ignition. The luggage caught fire thereafter and burnt the coach at a slower rate


"A ventilation induced ignition of the gases or combustible products accumulated in an under-ventilated compartment fire. With the introduction of ventilation, the accumulation of unburned particles suddenly ignites and can blast out of the opening used for ventilation.

Warning signs for backdraught

"Intact windows can show heavy smoke staining or glass crazing. There can be smoke issuing from the eaves or pulsing smoke movements in and out of cracks and openings. Upon opening a door or a window there may be a sudden inrush or draw of air that may create a ‘twister’ effect in the smoke. Blue flames may be visible in areas separate from the main fire and heavy smoke exiting a doorway or a window may roll back into tiny mushroom shapes."

(Excerpts from "Rapid Fire Progress" by Rob Aldcorn, February 22, 2006;

Conclusions by Jan Sangharsh Manch

The Gujarat government’s official version regarding the burning of coach S-6, developed through multiple charge sheets, does not inspire any confidence since it suffers from innumerable contradictions obvious from the record itself.

The official theory is as follows: At about 9 p.m. on February 26, 2002, in the Aman Guest House, Razak Kurkure, Salim Panwala and a few other Muslims from Signal Falia had conspired to burn down coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. This was planned at the behest of Maulana Umerji. At about 10 p.m. that night, 140 litres of petrol was bought and hidden in Razak Kurkure’s house. After finding out that the train was running late, the burning of coach S-6 on February 27, 2002, at 8 a.m., was organised in two stages.

A mob of 1,000 was mobilised to stone the train. Under the cover provided by them, a few boys carrying 140 litres of petrol were sent into the coach by cutting through the vestibule canvas. Once inside, they poured out the petrol and set the coach on fire.

The above thesis suffers from the following obvious defects:

  • Absolutely no indication as to what the original plan was if the train had arrived at the right time.
  • Absolutely no evidence has been brought on record to show how the conspirators found out that kar sevaks were travelling by the Sabarmati Express that would reach Godhra on February 27, 2002. The police and the intelligence department have consistently claimed they had no such information! Besides, the train arrived way past its scheduled arrival time, four or five hours late.
  • In the first three charge sheets prepared by two separate IOs, there are no allegations at all regarding the purchase of 140 litres of petrol from Kalabhai’s pump.
  • On the contrary, in their statement before the police on April 10, 2002, the two employees at the petrol pump (Prabhatsinh Patel and Ranjitsinh Patel) had not mentioned any sale of large quantities of petrol on February 26, 2002. However, a year later, in March 2003, they were brought before a magistrate to make such allegations.
  • There is evidence on record to show that it was kar sevaks who had pulled the chain and stopped the train at Godhra station, and not Muslims.
  • The FSL has not found any petrol hydrocarbons among the 500 kilos or so of burnt materials found inside the coach. And no "black carboys" (in which 140 litres of petrol was ostensibly carried) were found anywhere near the compartment, either inside or outside.
  • The FSL did not find any traces of any carboy (plastic) inside the coach. Where did the carboys in which the 140 litres of petrol was allegedly carried vanish?
  • If 140 litres of petrol had actually been poured inside a coach and set on fire, this would have created a massive explosion, especially because of the confined space in which the ignition occurred.
  • If such a fire had in fact occurred, would a single passenger have come out alive? Over 70 passengers of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, with superficial injuries above the knee, survived the fire. Can such a pattern of burning of injured passengers be explained by fluid induced burning which would have a much greater impact?
  • The burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 was not the result of any pre-planned conspiracy by Muslims. It was not due to petrol or inflammable fluid that coach S-6 burnt down but due to the flash fire that followed the initial ignition. The luggage caught fire thereafter and burnt the coach at a slower rate.
  • The commission should order a fresh investigation by a body of experts who have a special knowledge of fire in enclosed spaces.
  • The investigation officer should be replaced immediately.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, Godhra 1



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