Mass graves and missing lives

The challenges thrown up for India, post-Godhra 2002, are fundamental. Are the politically powerful, even if they are organisers of mass murder and rape, immune from the law? The acknowledgement of a crime is the essential foundation on which victims begin the process of healing. In Gujarat, victims have been denied even that recognition.

The absence of any signs of remorse from the perpetrators has reduced what was a premeditated and gruesome carnage into a sorry spectacle. Every few months we are jolted by newspaper headlines and "breaking news" on television screens. For a few hours or a few days we are reminded once again of the carnage that was, but the neo-fascist functionary remains unrelenting, unrepentant. Gujarat continues to function as if it lives outside the writ and mandate of the Indian Constitution.

Official figures and police records reveal that of the 413 persons who were classified as ‘missing’ (bodies untraceable) after the 2002 carnage, the remains of 228 are still ‘not traced’. Victim survivors of the mass massacres, who filed missing person complaints with the local police in Anand, Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Panchmahal in 2002 and 2003, have said on oath that the remains of their lost relatives lie buried in illegal dumps or mass graves. Those mercilessly butchered were even denied the dignity of a decent burial.

Panchmahal was one of Gujarat’s many districts targeted by armed mobs between February 28 and March 3, 2002. Muslims of Pandharwada village were targeted for slaughter at two different locations on March 1, 2002 (CC, "Genocide-Gujarat 2002", was the first to document this massacre). Between March 2002 and December 2005, victim survivors of Pandharwada made oral and written applications to the deputy inspector general (DIG), Vadodara, the collector, Panchmahal, the deputy superintendent (DySP), Godhra, the deputy collector, Lunawada and the mamlatdar, Khanpur, urging that the remains of their lost ones be traced and returned. In December 2005, after nearly four years of frigid silence, they went digging for the remains themselves. They sought the media as an ally and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) for moral and legal support.

On December 27, 2005 the relatives uncovered bodies of lost ones that had been dumped in the forest wasteland near the Paanam river outside Lunawada town. They approached the Gujarat High Court. The Gujarat High Court ordered the human remains to be sent for DNA testing and analysis to an independent laboratory in Hyderabad under strict supervision of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Justice CK Buch’s order observed that if after analysis even a single body remained unidentified, a fresh case existed and scope for a de novo qua or fresh investigation was made out.

The CBI submitted the analysis to the Gujarat High Court in May 2006. Victim survivors were denied a copy of this report despite repeated pleas while the Gujarat state accessed a copy immediately. On December 6, 2006, the state appeared to be in an unholy hurry to get the matter disposed of. The victim survivors, who had approached the court in the first place, were not given the report and hence had no chance to reply. Despite this, the report did become public. Samples from eight body remains appeared to match the DNA samples taken from relatives of the Pandharwada massacre victims while 11 body remains were still unidentified. The matter was taken up for final hearing just two days later.

Given the findings of the Hyderabad laboratory, there was clear scope for a fresh CBI investigation as observed by Justice Buch earlier. Predictably, the Gujarat government adamantly opposed the court’s ruling of December 29, 2005 while counsel for the CBI remained unmoved by the pleas of victim survivors a year later. Instead, the CBI indirectly supported the Gujarat government’s stand, a fact recorded by the judge in his oral order.

The advocate for the victim survivors argued cogently and at length that the entire matter of illegally dumping these bodies needed to be investigated afresh by the CBI.

In the year since the mass grave was found, the victim survivors and co-petitioners had filed 600 pages of affidavits to substantiate their claims. For example, it was pointed out that the skeletal remains of the son of petitioner, Ameenabehn Rasool, were found bearing tattered bits of the same clothes in which he had been killed. This indicated that the police had not followed post-mortem and other routine procedures. It was also pointed out that the Gujarat government’s bias was evident from the fact that while the unidentified remains of Godhra arson survivors were kept in the public morgue for five months (and public notices for identification sent out repeatedly), these victims from the Muslim minority were unceremoniously dumped in wastelands near the Paanam river within three days of their killing. A 250-acre Muslim graveyard in Lunawada town lies barely a few kilometres away.

State officials could have handed over the bodies, even if unidentified, to local clergy to perform the last rites. Not only was this not done, victim survivors and human rights defenders who have assisted the legal struggle since December 2005 have been hounded by the local police, with a false FIR (first information report) being made out against them. They have all had to seek anticipatory bail. The case is pending against them even today although the Gujarat High Court has stayed registration of the FIR.

Even after the DNA sampling has confirmed that eight of the body remains of the dead matched the survivors of the mass carnage in Pandharwada, the victims have been denied dignified burial rites.

Sadly, the struggle for justice in Gujarat has been reduced to a legal battle for constitutional governance by victim survivors and some civil society actors. The political class that chants the secularism mantra to win elections has not merely kept a discreet distance. When it comes to punishment of the guilty of 2002, the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre has chosen to forget its 2004 electoral promise. Do political considerations make it uncomfortable for them to play a part in the struggle for justice? Or, with the blood of past carnages on their own hands, do they sleep easier if the perpetrators remain unchallenged?

Pandharwada mass graves case: A brief

March 1, 2002
Mass massacre in Pandharwada in Panchmahal district, registered as CR 11/2002. Over 40 persons were massacred in two brutal incidents in this village. The accused were acquitted in October 2002. After this hasty acquittal and following rebukes by the Supreme Court in the Best Bakery case, the state government has made token attempts to reopen the investigation and trial.

March 2002-December 2005
Victim survivors of the Pandharwada massacre make repeated oral and written applications addressed to the DIG, Vadodara, the collector, Panchmahal district, the DySP, Godhra, the deputy collector, Lunawada and the mamlatdar, Khanpur. They even approach the medical officer, Panchal, for recovery of dead bodies. All their efforts are in vain.

December 27, 2005
In the third or fourth desperate search for the remains of their loved ones, relatives unearth skulls and bones in a ravine near Paanam river, outside Lunawada town. TV channels present do a live telecast of the entire episode. Contacted by victims for legal support, Rais Khan, Gujarat field coordinator of CJP, is present at the spot, while CJP secretary, Teesta Setalvad informs the Gujarat police about the discovery of the bodies.

December 28, 2005
Police inspector Puwar from the Lunawada police station goes to the house of Gulam Kharadi to threaten and abuse him. His wife, Jebunissa Gulam Kharadi files a complaint at the Lunawada police station against the inspector.

December 28, 2005
Ameenabehn Habib Rasool, a victim survivor who lost her son in the bloody massacre, files a petition along with CJP (Spl. Crim. Appln. 1875/2005) praying for the transfer of the entire investigation to the CBI.

In the affidavit annexed to the petition and dated December 29, 2005, Ameenabehn Habib Rasool, who saw her 24-year-old son being slaughtered in front of her eyes, states that she was shocked to find that when confronted with the mass graves issue, DGP AK Bhargava of the Gujarat police threatened penal action against victim survivors instead of showing concern and remorse over the appalling developments.

Present status of  the Mass Graves case

  • Survivors and CJP have filed an SLP appealing against the      odies matching the survivors of the Pandharwada mass carnage, the survivors are even today denied the right to a dignified burial of their relatives.
  • The UPA government and the Centre’s counsel in the Gujarat High Court have been silent on the survivors’ demand for a CBI investigation. Why?
  • A CBI/independent investigation needs to be ordered pertaining to the 228 missing persons from all over Gujarat. According to the Gujarat government’s own report, 228 bodies are yet to be found.
  • The DNA test report exposes the Gujarat government’s collusion with the accused because they contended that the skeletal remains were in no way connected to the Pandharwada massacre.
  • In all carnage related matters within the state of Gujarat there is a subversion of justice by the state of Gujarat and even sections of the judiciary in that state.
  • Prosecutors in the Gujarat carnage cases continue to function at the behest of the chief minister, Narendra Modi, ignoring their legal and constitutional obligations.
  • The Gujarat government is still holding its threat of an FIR against the survivors and human rights defenders.

Collector DH Brahmbhatt had a similar response, saying that ‘the anguished search of relatives for the remains of their lost ones was an illegal act". There were, however, several contradictions in the administration’s stance. On December 27, Bhargava told the media that the bodies could be related to the Pandharwada massacre; on the very next day he contradicted himself, saying the bodies could be related to an incident that took place prior to February 28, 2002. But on the same day the collector and the SP of the district, JK Bhatt, were categorical that the bodies were related to the Pandharwada massacre.

Expressing loss of faith in the Gujarat police, the petition also pointed out that Lunawada, a town only a few kilometres from Pandharwada (where all the survivors of the Pandharwada massacre are rehabilitated), had a 250-acre burial ground, large portions of which are unused. Why were those killed not given a dignified burial at the Lunawada graveyard? Why were they dumped surreptitiously into a mass grave?

Despite the fact that the post-mortem reports in most of the cases contained names of the deceased in detail, the state had the gall to claim that no family member had ever claimed the bodies.

Further proof of the state government’s lies comes from the inquest panchnamas and post-mortem reports. In identifying the dead, the police were clearly concerned with little other than observing the formalities. The dead bodies were shown to have been identified by Mukundbhai Bhikhabhai Sheikh, Shankar R. Harijan, etc, persons who were not even distant relatives of any of the deceased.

The body remains unearthed on December 27, 2005 were found bearing traces of the same clothes that the victims were wearing at the time of the assault. This is what made it easier for close relatives i.e. witnesses to identify the bodies, a process that was telecast by the electronic media in real time. This can only mean that the dead bodies did not undergo proper post-mortem procedures. If post-mortem procedures had been properly followed, the bodies would then have been wrapped in white cloth and the clothes worn by the deceased would have been collected and recorded through a separate panchnama. The post-mortem reports produced by the prosecution along with the charge sheet were apparently manipulated so that the weapons used by the accused persons could not be matched to the injuries of the deceased.

December 29, 2005
The Gujarat High Court passes an order transferring the investigation to CBI.

December 30-31, 2005
The CBI issues summons to the victim survivors to be present at the Godhra Circuit House for blood samples to be taken so that DNA tests may then be carried out. CJP provided the CBI with a list of the victim survivors and their relationship with the deceased. Summons were received and signed by victims before January 1, 2006.

January 2, 2006
At 1.30 a.m., the Lunawada police file an FIR (CR No. 1 3/2006 with Khanpur police station) against the victim survivors and representatives of CJP under sections 192, 193, 201, 120 B, 295 A and 297 of the Indian Penal Code. The team from the TV news channel, Sahara Samay, which was present throughout and telecast, live, the entire incident of digging and recovery of bodies, was deliberately excluded from the list of ‘offenders to alleged offences named in the FIR’. Interestingly, the FIR, which was lodged by a sanitation inspector, invokes sections that in normal circumstances require state government sanction. And the victim survivors who were forced to resort to a desperate search for the remains of their near and dear ones by a callous administration now stand accused of hurting religious sentiments. Whose religious sentiments?

January 5-7, 2006
A piquant situation arises when victim survivors come to the Godhra Circuit House, terrified because the state of Gujarat has accused them of committing serious crimes when all they were "guilty" of was an agonised search for the remains of their lost ones. CJP seeks and receives assurances from the collector and the SP of Panchmahal that the victim survivors would not be arrested when they arrived to give blood samples.

January 9, 2006
The state government affidavit contradicts itself. Para 4 of its affidavit dated January 9 states that some bodies were unidentified. (In another sworn affidavit filed later, it claims that all the dead bodies were identified.) The state government also claims that relatives and others had identified bodies and then let them remain in a pit without the dignity of last rites. The Gujarat government obviously has no qualms stating falsehood upon falsehood in sworn affidavits. Later, in para 8 of the affidavit the government claims that the bodies were buried because nobody had come forward to claim them!

January 10, 2006
Mehboobbhai Rasoolbhai Chauhan, a victim survivor, and all others accused in the FIR along with CJP representatives (Rais Khan and Teesta Setalvad), approach the Sessions Court, Panchmahal, situated at Godhra, for anticipatory bail. Bail is granted. What’s more, in his order the judge observes that the said FIR was, prima facie, filed to pre-empt the order of the high court and deter the CBI from investigating the offence pertaining to the skeletons. The judge also observes that the Lunawada police’s action in registering an FIR was clearly "a counterblast" to the matters pending before the Gujarat High Court.

Thereafter, the ‘accused’ in the FIR approach the police several times (as is the norm in Gujarat) but the police does not formally arrest and then release them on regular bail as is required under the law. This is a deliberate act so as not to complete the formalities necessitated by the court order of January 10. The state police thus keeps a sword hanging over the heads of Pandharwada’s victim survivors.

January 12, 2006
Some 40 persons from the local unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stage a ‘morcha’ to the collector’s office, asserting that ‘Hindu’ sentiments have been hurt and therefore Rais Khan and Teesta Setalvad should not be allowed inside Lunawada. The CJP secretary visits Lunawada and Pandharwada anyway, to stand by the survivors.

When confronted with the mass graves issue, DGP AK Bhargava of the Gujarat police threatened penal action against victim survivors instead of showing concern and remorse over the appalling developments

February 1, 2006
Maksudabehn Yusufbhai Shaikh, widow of murdered Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Shaikh, files an application before the police sub-inspector, Khanpur police station, stating that she has information that her husband’s body has been buried illegally and without last rites at Lavanagam. She therefore appeals that the body be exhumed in the presence of her advocate and panchas (witnesses), and she be allowed to bury the body in accordance with Muslim rites. The same police that was screaming itself hoarse about the ‘illegal’ act committed on December 27, 2005, simply ignores her application. Copies of the said application were given to the DySP, Panchmahal, the collector and even the CBI, but to no avail.

February 7, 2006
CJP files an affidavit (in Spl. Crim. Appln. 1875/2005) pointing out that in the course of arguments before the Gujarat High Court on December 29, 2005, none of the so-called offences made out in CR No 1 3/2006 by the Lunawada police station had been committed. This clearly showed that the FIR was a desperate afterthought meant to adversely influence investigations. The affidavit also details the repeated harassment of Rais Khan by the police in Ahmedabad.

February 7, 2006
The state of Gujarat files an application (Misc. Crim. Appln. 1613/2006) for cancellation of bail of those named in FIR CR 1 3/2006. The court rejects this application.

February 10, 2006
Affidavits are submitted by petitioner Ameenabehn Rasool and CJP that include details of the procedure for burial of unidentified and missing persons as per the Gujarat Municipalities Act and the police norms and rules as stated by them in their earlier affidavit. None of this has been countered by the state of Gujarat.

Victim survivors have made it plain that the game plan of the state of Gujarat is to target them, and other eyewitnesses and citizens groups whom they have approached for legal help. Rather than showing any compassion or remorse, the administration and the government’s sole aim is to treat aggrieved citizens as criminals. The spectre of non-bailable arrest warrants continues to hang over them even today. Video recordings of the events of December 27, 2005, which have been placed before the court, substantively prove the petitioners’ contention that there was no instigation by outsiders when the mass grave was dug up. It was a spontaneous act by anguished relatives.

February 21, 2006
In its rejoinder affidavit the state government indulges in further falsehoods and claims that Maksudabehn Yusufbhai Shaikh had refused to allow the exhuming of her husband’s body.

March 2, 2006
Maksudabehn Shaikh files an affidavit in the main Pandharwada matter (Spl. Crim. Appln. 1875/2005) pointing out shocking attempts by the Gujarat police to doctor records. She charges the Gujarat police with fabricating evidence. This justifies the petitioners’ claim that the Gujarat state police simply cannot be trusted to handle an investigation against itself in a fair and impartial manner.

In her affidavit, Maksudabehn states that:

  • She made applications on February 1 and 6, 2006 to the pranth officer, Lunawada, the collector, Panchmahal at Godhra, the SP, Panchmahal, the DySP, Lunawada, the PI, Lunawada, etc asking that her husband’s body be exhumed. The application requested that after following legal procedure, the same should be handed over to the CBI for samples for DNA analysis after which the dead body should be handed over to her for a proper burial as per Muslim law.
  • The dead body of her husband, Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Shaikh, was not handed over either to her or her mother-in-law, either on March 5, 2002 or on any other day, by any police, and she had not affixed her thumb impression acknowledging receipt of the body, as claimed by the state. She also states that the police was trying to make out a false case against her and was refusing to process her application to exhume her deceased husband’s body.
  • The police claim that they handed over the dead body of her husband to her on March 5, 2002 is absolutely false and an irresponsible statement. Had the body been handed over to her as claimed, it would have been buried according to proper religious rites, in the Muslim graveyard, by Muslim men from the local community. It is very clear that nothing of this sort has happened. It appears therefore that the police was suppressing the truth.
  • If her husband’s body had been handed over to her on March 5, 2002, then where was the need for her mother-in-law to make a written application for the same on March 19, 2002? (This was reported in the Gujarati daily, Gujarat Today, at the time.) Moreover, if the body had been obtained and buried, why would the family make repeated applications to the collectors of Godhra and neighbouring districts after March 5, 2002, inquiring whether Yusufbhai was alive or dead. Why did the police not respond to her applications at the relevant time?
  • When the police carried out the inquest panchnama as claimed on March 5, 2002, she was not called to the site nor was she present. However, her name and presence has been falsely recorded therein. No thumb impression or signature of hers can be seen on this inquest panchnama. The police inquest panchnama is said to have been carried out between 4.00 and 4.45 p.m. on March 5, 2002. It has also been stated that the police had seen the dead body at 2.30 p.m. on the same day, after which they sent it to the medical officer in Pandharwada.
  • If the so-called inquest panchnama was carried out between 4.00 and 4.45 p.m. on March 5, 2002, how does that tally with the police’s claim that the post-mortem was performed on the same day, at virtually the same time i.e. 4.30 p.m.?

From the material and facts mentioned above, Maksudabehn Shaikh concludes that the police’s claim that they had handed over her husband’s dead body to her on March 5, 2002, or any other day, was a total lie.

March, 2006
Victim survivors and CJP file 600 pages of detailed affidavits contradicting, point by point, all claims made by the state of Gujarat in their affidavits. Ameenabehn Habib Rasool in her rejoinder to rejoinder affidavit dated March 2006 states that:

  • The dead bodies were buried on the banks of the river ‘Paanam’.
  • Through their own investigations, the petitioners learnt that the said land has been classified as ‘forest land’ in village records. This proves that the local administration ought not to have buried the dead bodies there. Instead, they should have been handed over to the survivors of the deceased.
  • Having learnt of the illegal dumping site from the sanitation inspector, victim survivors then informed other villagers and soon thereafter the skeletons were unearthed, in the presence of the electronic media. It was only because of the electronic media’s exposure that the police could not tamper with the skeletons, the evidence. The local administration was caught on the wrong foot, especially because the skeletons were unearthed from forest land. Thus the family members took a wise decision in not providing prior information to the relevant authorities, all of which are controlled by the state government.
  • The CBI should be asked to immediately seize or take charge of the case diaries and the weekly diaries of the police so that the role of the state police and the local administration can be scrutinised. As it is, the state police has had enough opportunity to ‘tamper’ with the evidence.
  • The role of the state government in not protecting its citizens and in defending the accused has repeatedly come to light in this and several other instances.


Justice CK Buch, Gujarat High Court
Order dated December 29, 2005
“..It is true that the CBI can be said to be a third agency but ultimately it is yet to be traced whether the dead bodies that have been found out are of the persons who were named deceased in earlier incidents and disposed of in accordance with the norms and scheme under the Municipality Act and other norms that are being adopted by the state, but if it is found that (the) dead bodies or any one of such dead bodies is not accounted for in connection (with) any of two earlier incidents, then it may lead to (a) new case and, therefore, the scope to investigate the crime de novo qua that is there. I am told that relatives of the persons who are declared missing have been paid compensation but that by itself would not be sufficient to resolve the situation that has come to light by the act of digging out the dead bodies already buried earlier by the state machinery or the municipality concerned. The CBI, on receipt of the report from the laboratory, after approaching this court, positively can take appropriate further steps if required…”

March 2006
Petitioners Mehboobbhai Rasoolbhai Chauhan and Rasoolbhai Ashrafbhai Sheikh pray for a transfer of the entire investigation of the alleged offences to the CBI.

April 5, 2006
The Gujarat High Court refuses to cancel the anticipatory bail granted to victim survivors and CJP representatives by the sessions court at Godhra earlier.

April 17, 2006
Despite the Gujarat High Court order of April 5, 2006, the Gujarat police illegally obtains non-bailable warrants against victim survivors and representatives of CJP by misleading the court.

April 20, 2006
The Gujarat High Court issues notice to the Gujarat government on the petitioners’ plea for stay and transfer of the FIR-related investigations to the CBI, and posts the case for urgent hearing on April 28, 2006. Meanwhile, no action can be taken by the Gujarat police in respect of the investigation.

The case now proceeds in the district sessions court, slowly.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2007 Year 13    No.123, Genocide's Aftermath Part I, Mass Graves




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