Criminal State

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: February 1, 2003
A year after the state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat, justice for the victims 
remains a distant goal

If the ‘author’ and ‘architect’ of a state–sponsored genocide, Gujarat’s chief minister Narendra Modi, continues to hold the reigns of power, is it any surprise that the primary job of law enforcement agencies — ensuring justice — is deliberately subverted?

If, moreover, the politico–ideological mentors and protectors of Modi dominate the government at the Centre, is it any wonder that efforts to get justice from the courts, too, are met with narrow and technical responses?

On December 15 last year, many of Gujarat’s state cabinet ministers and MLAs accused of direct involvement in the mass crimes that claimed over 2,000 lives, and economically and culturally decimated the Muslim community in Gujarat were re–elected with a massive mandate.

Dr. Maya Kotdani, former MLA, accused in the Naroda massacre, was re-elected by a big margin.

Ashok Bhatt, former cabinet minister, accused of manipulating the police and ensuring their inaction during the carnage (between February 28 and March 5, 2002) too, has been re-elected and re–inducted into the new cabinet as minister of law and judiciary.

Similarly, IK Jadeja, another former minister also accused of planting himself in the police control room at Gandhinagar to ensure police inaction also finds a place in the new cabinet, as minister for health and family welfare.

Prabhatsinh Chauhan, former minister, charged with leading some of the carnages in Panchmahal district has also retained a cabinet rank and is how minister for cow protection.

Perpetrators of mass crimes with a post-genocide electoral mandate exercise an insidious influence on the crime investigation machinery. Given this political writ, crucial investigations into the Godhra mass arson and the post-Godhra carnages are marked with a clear motive to subvert their course. The attempt is not merely to ensure that the guilty go unpunished, but even to obliterate their names from the crime investigation records itself.

Investigations into the Godhra mass arson are similarly motivated. The evidence of the railway police, affidavits of co–travellers on the ill-fated Sabarmati Express filed before the ongoing KG Shah commission of inquiry, the conclusion of officials from the government’s own Ahmedabad–based Forensic Science Laboratory, that a fire of such intensity could not have been started from outside, remain to be investigated further while selective arrests, including those under POTA, continue indiscriminately.

The most recent example was the arrest of Maulana Hussain Umerji, a respected cleric and social worker of Godhra. He was arrested on the basis of a confessional statement before the police made by a ‘history–sheeter’, Sabeer Bin Yameen Behra, under section 120 b and 394 of the IPC, and accused of "hatching a conspiracy, recruiting youth and executing the Godhra train burning incident." (Two weeks later, he, along with other Godhra accused, was booked under POTA).

Independent investigation and media reports show that Umerji had been involved in relief and was also the author of several memoranda to the NHRC, the President of India and independent rights groups on the plight of victims during and after the genocide. He was also involved actively in post-earthquake (2001) relief work. A 75–year–old man, Umerji is unweli, ailing with many diseases. His indiscriminate arrest resulted in over a week–long bandh protest by Godhra residents.

The ghastly massacre of former MP, Ahsan Jafri and at least 70 others at the Gulberg society, Chamanpura on February 28, 2002 shook the conscience of the nation. Two FIRs were filed by the Inspector Erda of the Meghaninagar police station in this case. Today, a year later, the trial in this case has not yet begun; the