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20 years after Godhra – Some reflections

Silence is not an option; we must continue to speak truth to power

27 Feb 2022

Godhra Train

Twenty years ago, at the end of February 2002, we were in Palo Alto with our daughter, towards the end of a successful lecture tour organised by friends – to build a coalition of groups and voices prepared to stand up against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It was with horror and disbelief that we watched on the news, the unfolding of the tragic events starting February 27, into the first week of March… from Godhra to Ahmedabad and across the state.

  • The burnt train at Godhra – the incendiary speeches and broadcasts

  • The fires, the killings, the mayhem 

  • The deliberate targeting of all those belonging to one community

  • The brutality of rapes and murders of Muslim women

  • A state and a people gone mad with blood lust

  • The inaction of the State Police

  • The deliberate delay in calling in the Army Units who had been flown in but remained in their barracks for the crucial 48 to 72 hours before being ordered to “restore peace, law and order”.

Were these indeed images of our land and our people? That too in Gandhiji’s Gujarat?

Being many thousand miles away was the toughest of all – what to believe – what to dismiss as exaggerated reports? This was before the WhatsApp pandemic had hit us.

Then slowly as calls and eye witness accounts started trickling in – the dreadful reality slowly began to hit home, and we could no longer escape from the numbing truth that this was indeed true - for the most part, it was deliberately organised violence leading to communal carnage. The world began calling it a Pogrom, and worse - Genocide.

I did the only thing I could do at that time, which was to write an anguished letter to my Prime Minister – Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee – one of the hardest things to do.  I am sharing extracts herewith:

“My Dear Prime Minister Vajpayee ji,

“It is indeed with a heavy heart that I write to my Prime Minister at this time. The recent happenings in Gujarat have completely shaken my confidence in the Government and its capacity to uphold and protect a democratic and secular India.”

“The entire nation is shocked at the callousness and inefficiency displayed by the law and order machinery of the Government of Gujarat, which not only failed to perform its duty to its citizens, but also stood by and in several cases actually incited what can best be described as a pogrom.”

“The democratic and secular traditions of India have been severely endangered by the recent events. In addition, the carnage in Gujarat has created an increasingly negative image of India among people in many parts of the world.”

“I joined the Navy at the age of fifteen just a few months after Independence. My growth in the Navy has coincided with that of the country and I rose to head the Indian Navy from 1990 to 1993. We have had many distinguished servicemen from the minority communities who have reached the highest ranks in the service.
To name a few: Field Marshal Manekshaw, Marshal of the Air Force, Arjan Singh, Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif, Admirals Cursetji, Pereira and Dawson - all Chiefs of the Indian Navy; the Keelor brothers of the Air Force who both won the Mahavir Chakra; Brigadier Usman, decorated posthumously with the Mahavir Chakra, Lance Naik Albert Ekka ñ Param Vir Chakra (posthumous), and men like my own steward, M.Ali, who served me faithfully while I was commanding INS Beas in the 1971 operations”


“The Indian Armed Forces have always been one of the strongest pillars of our secular democracy. They have maintained their political neutrality and have respected civil authority since Independence despite trends to the contrary in our immediate neighbourhood. They represent a microcosm of the diversity of India which has always been its strength. Over the years India has witnessed the steady process of communalization and politicization of our bureaucracy and the police. It would be a tragedy indeed if these processes were to affect the Armed Forces of this land. This could herald a potentially disastrous and unmanageable situation where our uniformed personnel could find themselves in opposing camps with all its attendant dangers.”

Here are a few among the list of recommendations sent to the Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee.

Constitute a Commission of Enquiry by a Bench of three sitting judges from the Supreme Court of India to look into the entire sequence of events beginning with the tragedy on the train to the subsequent massacre of minorities in Gujarat.

2. Bring to book all the guilty persons including politicians, bureaucrats and police personnel who have been directly responsible for dereliction of duty.

3. Ban extremist right wing organizations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and the RSS, as has already been done with SIMI.

4. Set up camps immediately for those dispossessed; initiate a rehabilitation programme with necessary resources; and equitable compensation to families of all victims.

As a former Chief of the Indian Navy, and as a concerned citizen, I can no longer remain a silent observer of what is tantamount to ethnic cleansing and genocide of our own people. I urge you to steer the nation firmly away from the path of extremism and fundamentalism of all shades.

Unfortunately, I am out of the country and cannot therefore meet you in person to share this with you.”

Ramdas

Needless to add, there was no acknowledgement let alone a response. This has, sadly been the fate, for the most part, of many of the letters and statements addressed to either the Honourable President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, or indeed to the Prime Minister. But of that, another time.

To return to the tragedy of Gujarat… The letter from America was dated March 11, 2002. We returned home to India by end of March – but were part of the ongoing, intense debates and discussions that accompanied the public outrage and shock following the events in Gujarat.

Inter Faith Fact Finding and Peace Mission – April 2002

In early April of 2002, a number of us, representing many sectors and faiths, decided to make a visit to Gujarat. Many of us had known each other and worked on peace and conflict issues earlier. We had been in continuous touch with each other ever since the terrible events of Feb 28 – March 2 when the Indian Army was finally provided the necessary facilities and invited to provide ‘aid to civil power’.

Although the worst of the carnage was over by the time we visited Gujarat a month later – it was clear that the people, especially the minorities, were both insecure and faced continuing harassment and abuse.

Our purpose was simple and clear – to gather facts from a variety of sources and to try to restore a sense of confidence among the people. Hence the composition of people from all faiths. These included the late Nirmala Deshpande who led the delegation; the Late Swami Agnivesh; John Dayal, Navaid Hamied; Admiral Ramdas – to name a few…

Knowing that a special Army Unit had been deployed to Gujarat, I decided to call on the General in charge and apprise him of our mission and our presence in the city. It was a pleasure to meet Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah, and receive a briefing. I remember very clearly that this was an era before the mobile phone had become popular – and my wife had thrust our newly acquired phone into my pocket just before I left for Gujarat. I mention this in light of subsequent events.

Nirmala Didi’s colleague and friend had generously offered to accommodate the group in ‘Eswar Bhavan’ where he lived. No sooner had we moved in, we were virtually ‘gheraoed’ – by elements who clearly knew who we were. 

One could guess their political affiliation, when we were told to “send out the Muslim members of the group” or else face arson and attacks on the entire group. How much more brazen could they get?

After a quick consultation we decided to move to the well-known Sabarmati Ashram, so as not to embarrass or endanger our well-meaning host.

But the unrelenting mobs followed us to the Ashram – with loud demands that we could only stay ‘if the Muslim members of the group were sent out’! At this point I realized that things may get worse, and the Sabarmati Ashram may itself be threatened. 

I therefore decided to call the General, popularly known as “Zoom” Shah, and explained our predicament. He said don’t move sir, we shall do something very soon. Sure enough, in about ten minutes two jeeps with mounted Machine guns appeared from either side of the road, no sooner were they sighted, the members of the “Goonda Mob” scurried away. Just shows the effect of the mere presence of the ARMY. And yet it is a point to ponder seriously and ask the question why it took three days before the Army was deployed on the streets of Ahmedabad and elsewhere?

In 2018, on the occasion of the release of Gen Shah’s book called ‘Sarkari Mussalman’, I remember being distressed to read that some senior officers of the Army had expressed concerns about “Zoom” aka an officer named ‘Zameeruddin’ being tasked with leading troops for this sensitive mission. It was good to hear that Gen Padmanabhan, then Chief of Army Staff, did exactly what I had myself done in 1971 – disregarded the voices of dissent and suspicion, and told ‘Zoom’ to proceed on this mission. As Captain of the INS BEAS in the 1971 operations, I was cautioned likewise about my steward Ali. Needless to say, I rejected the idea outright and sailed through the 1971 war against Pakistan with Ali by my side. 

I am proud of officers like Gen Padmanabhan and Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah who bring credit to our fine syncretic service traditions. But these were also early signals of how communal prejudice was already present and active in the majority community, including our Armed Forces. Alas we did not take these warnings seriously enough.

Why talk about Gujarat today? What lessons have we learned?

Having managed to locate this letter after two decades – I have been in a further dilemma – as to whether or not to bring this up again at this time, twenty years after the tragedy of Godhra and Gujarat. My wife Lalita and I have agonised over this for some time. We both concluded almost simultaneously, that silence was not an option.  We are senior citizens – who have lived through partition and its horrors. My wife has seen at first hand the brutality of the 1984 Pogrom and worked for nearly two years with the survivors of the Sikh community. We are witness to similar incidents of growing intolerance and communal violence across the country. That these are happening, with impunity, in the land of Buddha, Mahavira, and Mahatma Gandhi is disturbing to say the least. 

Therefore, our decision is, that as a former head of one of our Armed Forces, I should continue to try to speak Truth to Power – which is the one lesson my training in the Navy has taught me.

I have always believed that the Armed Forces represented the uncompromising commitment to the Constitution and its values. We have been clear that there is no way our Services can allow the influence of intolerance, religious bigotry and divisive communalism to infect our secular fighting forces. And yet we have almost helplessly watched the toxin of xenophobic politics relentlessly being injected into the life blood of our democracy.

Despite our Constitutional vision and Dharma so to speak – this is being eroded and weakened – and it is troubling to large numbers of us – possibly the silent majority. We draw attention to these personal and anecdotal events – because it is from the strength of one’s personal experiences that one builds convictions and value-based principles which are essential in our varied and complex societies.

There are a few other troubling issues which must be highlighted in the lessons learned

  • The role of Media which is no longer able to call a ‘spade a spade’ – someone rightly described Gujarat-02 an “archetypal post truth event”
  • Lack of accountability and liability – many fact-finding missions and investigations later – the only ‘fact’ being quoted is that the then Chief Minister was cleared and given a “clean chit”
  • Time and time again, leaders of many political parties, who pour hate and invective and instigate violence, have literally managed to get away with murder! In a recent article, Cherian George, an academic, refers to this as “predatory populism” – which turns into a story of self-defence instead of pre-meditated mass murder. This often leads to “decent citizens baying for blood”.
  • Again, to quote Mr Cherian George - we are facing a situation of ‘Think Global and Kill Local’ – the assaults on Human Rights and on Democracy are virtually ignored or condoned by the international community because of the imperative of geo-political and economic interests over so-called concerns about Human Rights.

So, as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the Tragedy of Gujarat – this is a call to the Conscience of all those who still believe in Humanity and Insaaniyat and who will continue to speak up and speak out on behalf of all the injustice, the deaths and violence wrought on thousands of innocents.  Let us not forget that few have been arraigned or brought to book – whereas 32 accused of bomb blasts, again in Gujarat, have been recently awarded the death penalty.

Our struggles to uphold our Constitution must continue with renewed fervour. We reaffirm our belief in Justice, Equality, Freedom, Fraternity and Secularism, as the guiding principles of our Republic. Then alone can we proudly sing:

“Saare Jahaan se Achha Hindustan Hamara” – Jai Hind – Jai Jagat!


*While Admiral L Ramdas is the Former Chief of Naval Staff, Lalita Ramdas is a peace activist and one of the most inspiring and vocal members of Indian civil society.

Related:

‘Sleeping with the Enemy?’
The world is watching us: former Admiral L Ramdas to PM Modi and Pres. Kovind

20 years after Godhra – Some reflections

Silence is not an option; we must continue to speak truth to power

Godhra Train

Twenty years ago, at the end of February 2002, we were in Palo Alto with our daughter, towards the end of a successful lecture tour organised by friends – to build a coalition of groups and voices prepared to stand up against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It was with horror and disbelief that we watched on the news, the unfolding of the tragic events starting February 27, into the first week of March… from Godhra to Ahmedabad and across the state.

  • The burnt train at Godhra – the incendiary speeches and broadcasts

  • The fires, the killings, the mayhem 

  • The deliberate targeting of all those belonging to one community

  • The brutality of rapes and murders of Muslim women

  • A state and a people gone mad with blood lust

  • The inaction of the State Police

  • The deliberate delay in calling in the Army Units who had been flown in but remained in their barracks for the crucial 48 to 72 hours before being ordered to “restore peace, law and order”.

Were these indeed images of our land and our people? That too in Gandhiji’s Gujarat?

Being many thousand miles away was the toughest of all – what to believe – what to dismiss as exaggerated reports? This was before the WhatsApp pandemic had hit us.

Then slowly as calls and eye witness accounts started trickling in – the dreadful reality slowly began to hit home, and we could no longer escape from the numbing truth that this was indeed true - for the most part, it was deliberately organised violence leading to communal carnage. The world began calling it a Pogrom, and worse - Genocide.

I did the only thing I could do at that time, which was to write an anguished letter to my Prime Minister – Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee – one of the hardest things to do.  I am sharing extracts herewith:

“My Dear Prime Minister Vajpayee ji,

“It is indeed with a heavy heart that I write to my Prime Minister at this time. The recent happenings in Gujarat have completely shaken my confidence in the Government and its capacity to uphold and protect a democratic and secular India.”

“The entire nation is shocked at the callousness and inefficiency displayed by the law and order machinery of the Government of Gujarat, which not only failed to perform its duty to its citizens, but also stood by and in several cases actually incited what can best be described as a pogrom.”

“The democratic and secular traditions of India have been severely endangered by the recent events. In addition, the carnage in Gujarat has created an increasingly negative image of India among people in many parts of the world.”

“I joined the Navy at the age of fifteen just a few months after Independence. My growth in the Navy has coincided with that of the country and I rose to head the Indian Navy from 1990 to 1993. We have had many distinguished servicemen from the minority communities who have reached the highest ranks in the service.
To name a few: Field Marshal Manekshaw, Marshal of the Air Force, Arjan Singh, Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif, Admirals Cursetji, Pereira and Dawson - all Chiefs of the Indian Navy; the Keelor brothers of the Air Force who both won the Mahavir Chakra; Brigadier Usman, decorated posthumously with the Mahavir Chakra, Lance Naik Albert Ekka ñ Param Vir Chakra (posthumous), and men like my own steward, M.Ali, who served me faithfully while I was commanding INS Beas in the 1971 operations”


“The Indian Armed Forces have always been one of the strongest pillars of our secular democracy. They have maintained their political neutrality and have respected civil authority since Independence despite trends to the contrary in our immediate neighbourhood. They represent a microcosm of the diversity of India which has always been its strength. Over the years India has witnessed the steady process of communalization and politicization of our bureaucracy and the police. It would be a tragedy indeed if these processes were to affect the Armed Forces of this land. This could herald a potentially disastrous and unmanageable situation where our uniformed personnel could find themselves in opposing camps with all its attendant dangers.”

Here are a few among the list of recommendations sent to the Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee.

Constitute a Commission of Enquiry by a Bench of three sitting judges from the Supreme Court of India to look into the entire sequence of events beginning with the tragedy on the train to the subsequent massacre of minorities in Gujarat.

2. Bring to book all the guilty persons including politicians, bureaucrats and police personnel who have been directly responsible for dereliction of duty.

3. Ban extremist right wing organizations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and the RSS, as has already been done with SIMI.

4. Set up camps immediately for those dispossessed; initiate a rehabilitation programme with necessary resources; and equitable compensation to families of all victims.

As a former Chief of the Indian Navy, and as a concerned citizen, I can no longer remain a silent observer of what is tantamount to ethnic cleansing and genocide of our own people. I urge you to steer the nation firmly away from the path of extremism and fundamentalism of all shades.

Unfortunately, I am out of the country and cannot therefore meet you in person to share this with you.”

Ramdas

Needless to add, there was no acknowledgement let alone a response. This has, sadly been the fate, for the most part, of many of the letters and statements addressed to either the Honourable President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, or indeed to the Prime Minister. But of that, another time.

To return to the tragedy of Gujarat… The letter from America was dated March 11, 2002. We returned home to India by end of March – but were part of the ongoing, intense debates and discussions that accompanied the public outrage and shock following the events in Gujarat.

Inter Faith Fact Finding and Peace Mission – April 2002

In early April of 2002, a number of us, representing many sectors and faiths, decided to make a visit to Gujarat. Many of us had known each other and worked on peace and conflict issues earlier. We had been in continuous touch with each other ever since the terrible events of Feb 28 – March 2 when the Indian Army was finally provided the necessary facilities and invited to provide ‘aid to civil power’.

Although the worst of the carnage was over by the time we visited Gujarat a month later – it was clear that the people, especially the minorities, were both insecure and faced continuing harassment and abuse.

Our purpose was simple and clear – to gather facts from a variety of sources and to try to restore a sense of confidence among the people. Hence the composition of people from all faiths. These included the late Nirmala Deshpande who led the delegation; the Late Swami Agnivesh; John Dayal, Navaid Hamied; Admiral Ramdas – to name a few…

Knowing that a special Army Unit had been deployed to Gujarat, I decided to call on the General in charge and apprise him of our mission and our presence in the city. It was a pleasure to meet Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah, and receive a briefing. I remember very clearly that this was an era before the mobile phone had become popular – and my wife had thrust our newly acquired phone into my pocket just before I left for Gujarat. I mention this in light of subsequent events.

Nirmala Didi’s colleague and friend had generously offered to accommodate the group in ‘Eswar Bhavan’ where he lived. No sooner had we moved in, we were virtually ‘gheraoed’ – by elements who clearly knew who we were. 

One could guess their political affiliation, when we were told to “send out the Muslim members of the group” or else face arson and attacks on the entire group. How much more brazen could they get?

After a quick consultation we decided to move to the well-known Sabarmati Ashram, so as not to embarrass or endanger our well-meaning host.

But the unrelenting mobs followed us to the Ashram – with loud demands that we could only stay ‘if the Muslim members of the group were sent out’! At this point I realized that things may get worse, and the Sabarmati Ashram may itself be threatened. 

I therefore decided to call the General, popularly known as “Zoom” Shah, and explained our predicament. He said don’t move sir, we shall do something very soon. Sure enough, in about ten minutes two jeeps with mounted Machine guns appeared from either side of the road, no sooner were they sighted, the members of the “Goonda Mob” scurried away. Just shows the effect of the mere presence of the ARMY. And yet it is a point to ponder seriously and ask the question why it took three days before the Army was deployed on the streets of Ahmedabad and elsewhere?

In 2018, on the occasion of the release of Gen Shah’s book called ‘Sarkari Mussalman’, I remember being distressed to read that some senior officers of the Army had expressed concerns about “Zoom” aka an officer named ‘Zameeruddin’ being tasked with leading troops for this sensitive mission. It was good to hear that Gen Padmanabhan, then Chief of Army Staff, did exactly what I had myself done in 1971 – disregarded the voices of dissent and suspicion, and told ‘Zoom’ to proceed on this mission. As Captain of the INS BEAS in the 1971 operations, I was cautioned likewise about my steward Ali. Needless to say, I rejected the idea outright and sailed through the 1971 war against Pakistan with Ali by my side. 

I am proud of officers like Gen Padmanabhan and Lt Gen Zameeruddin Shah who bring credit to our fine syncretic service traditions. But these were also early signals of how communal prejudice was already present and active in the majority community, including our Armed Forces. Alas we did not take these warnings seriously enough.

Why talk about Gujarat today? What lessons have we learned?

Having managed to locate this letter after two decades – I have been in a further dilemma – as to whether or not to bring this up again at this time, twenty years after the tragedy of Godhra and Gujarat. My wife Lalita and I have agonised over this for some time. We both concluded almost simultaneously, that silence was not an option.  We are senior citizens – who have lived through partition and its horrors. My wife has seen at first hand the brutality of the 1984 Pogrom and worked for nearly two years with the survivors of the Sikh community. We are witness to similar incidents of growing intolerance and communal violence across the country. That these are happening, with impunity, in the land of Buddha, Mahavira, and Mahatma Gandhi is disturbing to say the least. 

Therefore, our decision is, that as a former head of one of our Armed Forces, I should continue to try to speak Truth to Power – which is the one lesson my training in the Navy has taught me.

I have always believed that the Armed Forces represented the uncompromising commitment to the Constitution and its values. We have been clear that there is no way our Services can allow the influence of intolerance, religious bigotry and divisive communalism to infect our secular fighting forces. And yet we have almost helplessly watched the toxin of xenophobic politics relentlessly being injected into the life blood of our democracy.

Despite our Constitutional vision and Dharma so to speak – this is being eroded and weakened – and it is troubling to large numbers of us – possibly the silent majority. We draw attention to these personal and anecdotal events – because it is from the strength of one’s personal experiences that one builds convictions and value-based principles which are essential in our varied and complex societies.

There are a few other troubling issues which must be highlighted in the lessons learned

  • The role of Media which is no longer able to call a ‘spade a spade’ – someone rightly described Gujarat-02 an “archetypal post truth event”
  • Lack of accountability and liability – many fact-finding missions and investigations later – the only ‘fact’ being quoted is that the then Chief Minister was cleared and given a “clean chit”
  • Time and time again, leaders of many political parties, who pour hate and invective and instigate violence, have literally managed to get away with murder! In a recent article, Cherian George, an academic, refers to this as “predatory populism” – which turns into a story of self-defence instead of pre-meditated mass murder. This often leads to “decent citizens baying for blood”.
  • Again, to quote Mr Cherian George - we are facing a situation of ‘Think Global and Kill Local’ – the assaults on Human Rights and on Democracy are virtually ignored or condoned by the international community because of the imperative of geo-political and economic interests over so-called concerns about Human Rights.

So, as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the Tragedy of Gujarat – this is a call to the Conscience of all those who still believe in Humanity and Insaaniyat and who will continue to speak up and speak out on behalf of all the injustice, the deaths and violence wrought on thousands of innocents.  Let us not forget that few have been arraigned or brought to book – whereas 32 accused of bomb blasts, again in Gujarat, have been recently awarded the death penalty.

Our struggles to uphold our Constitution must continue with renewed fervour. We reaffirm our belief in Justice, Equality, Freedom, Fraternity and Secularism, as the guiding principles of our Republic. Then alone can we proudly sing:

“Saare Jahaan se Achha Hindustan Hamara” – Jai Hind – Jai Jagat!


*While Admiral L Ramdas is the Former Chief of Naval Staff, Lalita Ramdas is a peace activist and one of the most inspiring and vocal members of Indian civil society.

Related:

‘Sleeping with the Enemy?’
The world is watching us: former Admiral L Ramdas to PM Modi and Pres. Kovind

Related Articles


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Godhra train burning: Key accused nabbed after 19 years!

Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk nabbed from Signal Falia, three others remain at large

18 Feb 2021

Godhra train burning: Key accused nabbed

51-year-old Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk, one of the main accused in the 2002 Sabarmati Express train burning incident that killed 59 karsevaks, was nabbed by the Gujarat Police on Monday.

Panchmahal Superintendent of Police Dr. Leena Patil told news agencies, “Bhatuk was part of the core group of accused who had hatched the entire conspiracy, incited the mob and even arranged petrol to torch the train compartment,” reported The Indian Express. “He was involved in pelting stones on the compartment and pouring petrol inside before it was set on fire by other accused,” she added.

Bhatuk allegedly fled to Delhi after his name cropped up in the case. He worked there on various construction sites and railway stations. He would visit his family occasionally, but for short periods, as a result of which police were not able to catch him.

His family initially lived in the Sultan Falia area at the time of the train burning incident. But he relocated them to Signal Falia recently. When he came visiting this time, police raided his house and nabbed him, after receiving a tip-off.

Three other key accused: Salim Ibrahim Badam (a.k.a Salim Panwala), Shaukat Charkha and Abdulmajid Yousuf Mitha, are still absconding.

The burning of the Sabarmati Express near Signal Falia at Godhra on February 27, 2002, led to one of the worst instances of communal violence in India. In what is viewed by human rights watchers as a systematic pogrom, thousands of members of the minority community were massacred by mobs of people from right-wing extremist groups from the majority community. It is alleged that the violence was allowed to continue by authorities, allegedly at the behest of some of the topmost people in the state government at that time.

Related:

A closer look at Guj court order on Modi in Pranjit civil suit

Local court drops Modi’s name from three Guj riots civil suits

Multiple FIRs being used to intimidate Sohrabuddin case witnesses?

Godhra train burning: Key accused nabbed after 19 years!

Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk nabbed from Signal Falia, three others remain at large

Godhra train burning: Key accused nabbed

51-year-old Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk, one of the main accused in the 2002 Sabarmati Express train burning incident that killed 59 karsevaks, was nabbed by the Gujarat Police on Monday.

Panchmahal Superintendent of Police Dr. Leena Patil told news agencies, “Bhatuk was part of the core group of accused who had hatched the entire conspiracy, incited the mob and even arranged petrol to torch the train compartment,” reported The Indian Express. “He was involved in pelting stones on the compartment and pouring petrol inside before it was set on fire by other accused,” she added.

Bhatuk allegedly fled to Delhi after his name cropped up in the case. He worked there on various construction sites and railway stations. He would visit his family occasionally, but for short periods, as a result of which police were not able to catch him.

His family initially lived in the Sultan Falia area at the time of the train burning incident. But he relocated them to Signal Falia recently. When he came visiting this time, police raided his house and nabbed him, after receiving a tip-off.

Three other key accused: Salim Ibrahim Badam (a.k.a Salim Panwala), Shaukat Charkha and Abdulmajid Yousuf Mitha, are still absconding.

The burning of the Sabarmati Express near Signal Falia at Godhra on February 27, 2002, led to one of the worst instances of communal violence in India. In what is viewed by human rights watchers as a systematic pogrom, thousands of members of the minority community were massacred by mobs of people from right-wing extremist groups from the majority community. It is alleged that the violence was allowed to continue by authorities, allegedly at the behest of some of the topmost people in the state government at that time.

Related:

A closer look at Guj court order on Modi in Pranjit civil suit

Local court drops Modi’s name from three Guj riots civil suits

Multiple FIRs being used to intimidate Sohrabuddin case witnesses?

Related Articles


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Godhra Train Burning Case: Gujarat HC Upholds Trial Court Verdict but Commutes Death Sentence, Negates Findings of Citizens' Tribunal

10 Oct 2017
Gujarat High Court has confirmed the trial court verdict on ‘conspiracy’ into the Godhra mass arson (February 27, 2002), commuted the sentences of 11 convicts to life imprisonment from ‘death penalty’ and refused to entertain the application to call in journalist Ashish Khetan as witness for his sting operation into the Godhra investigation, widely criticised for being partisan even after the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) re-investigated the case.

Godhra Train Burning


To put things in perspective, we reproduce below the findings of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on the Godhra tragedy. The Tribunal was headed by Justices VR Krishna Iyer, P.B.Sawant and Hosbet Suresh and released its report on November 21-22, 2002. It had on its panel other senior jurists, activists and academics.

The handling of the Godhra case vis a vis the post Godhra reprisal killings have been often accused of being discriminatory. While the accused in the Godhra case remained as undertrials (there were 83 accused in all) without bail –POTA was imposed –till the trial coiurt judgement in early 2011, those powerful accused in the post Godhra reprisal killings roamed free withing three-six months of the massacres. Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, for instance were free from mid 2002 till early 2009 when the SIT arrested them.

Also read:
Discriminatory justice

Concerned Citizens Tribunal (November 21, 22,2002) on

Godhra
1.1.The Sabarmati Express train started from Ahmedabad for Ayodhya on February 22, 2002, with kar sevaks on board. It appears that on its onward journey to Ayodhya, there was an incident at Dahod railway station where the kar sevaks indulged in vandalism and terrorising of Muslim vendors at the station. According to another version, the Dahod incident took place on the return journey. There is no clear evidence of the date of the incident but it is clear that it took place.

1.2. There was another incident between Rudauli and Daryabad stations (closer to Faizabad) wherein the kar sevaks attacked Muslim passengers, including innocent women and children. When some young man protested against this, he was thrown off the train between Patranga and Rojagaon stations. Several women, badly wounded and covered in blood, jumped off the train at Rudauli station. The kar sevaks got off and started attacking those whom they identified as Muslim from among those present at the platform.

1.3. At Rudauli station, other similar incidents occurred, such as forcing the Muslims to shout, ‘Jai Shri Ram!’, pulling the beards of some of them, including stabbing with trishul.Despite the severity of these incidents, there was no prompt action taken either by the railway authorities or the police; nor were those seriously injured rushed to hospital. It appears that both local Hindus and Muslims condemned the attack and that Muslim religious leaders appealed for peace and urged that there should be no retaliation. (Report in Jan Morcha, published from Faizabad on February 25, 2002, two days before the Godhra incident on the return journey of the same Sabarmati Express– see Annexure 7 Volume 1.)

1.4.As the train travelled back from Ayodhya on its return journey to Ahmedabad, kar sevak girls and boys armed with trishuls and lathis, were getting down at every station and shouting slogans like, "Mandir Vahin Banayenge!","Jai Shriram!", "Muslim Bharat Chodo, Pakistan Jao" ("Muslims, Quit India! Go to Pakistan"), "Dudh mango tho kheer denge, Kashmir mango tho cheer denge" ("Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer (pudding), But ask for Kashmir and we’ll cut you up"). Many passengers felt harassed by this behaviour but were constrained to silence because the kar sevaks had captured all the reserved seats and the train was jam-packed.

1.5. The train reached Godhra station at 7.30 a.m. (three hours late), on February 27, 2002. There were certain incidents on the platform. There were some reports to the effect that a Muslim girl was molested by the kar sevaks who attempted to pull her into the train. The attempt to take her into the train was averted due to the intervention by Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station.

1.6. In a separate incident, a Muslim tea vendor had boarded coach S-6 with an aluminum tea kitli and plastic cups to sell tea. Passengers started to buy tea from him but he was insulted by some of the kar sevaks and sent out of the coach. It appears that some kar sevaks, identified by their saffron head bands and trishuls, had climbed onto the roofs of coaches of the Sabarmati Express as it stopped at the Godhra railway station, stripped themselves and made obscene gestures at Muslim women residing just opposite the station, who had come out to perform their morning chores. There was also some stone throwing, both from within and from outside the compartments.

1.7. As the train left the platform, at 7.48 a.m., it was immediately stopped by someone pulling the chain. The obvious reason for this was to enable some of the kar sevaks who were still left behind on the platform to enter the train. The train proceeded for about a kilometre. At Singal Falia the train stopped. Whether this was on account of someone pulling the chain or otherwise is not clear. The engine driver, at that point of time, had only seen someone from outside pelting stones at the train though not at coach S-6. Soon thereafter, coach S-6 was on fire. The question is, how did the fire occur?

1.8. The version of the government appears to be that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station, who had gathered in large numbers, threw fireballs into the train and that resulted in the fire. The government version also has it that these Ghanchi Muslims wanted to attack the kar sevaks, and that there were about 2,000 Muslims who were bent on attacking the train.

1.9. It may be stated at this stage that the full capacity of the train is 1,100. But, in fact, the train at that time had about 2,000 passengers, of which about 1,700 were kar sevaks. As far as coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express is concerned, the reservation capacity is 72. However, it was jam-packed on that day. Only one coach was burned and even in that coach one is not sure how many passengers were kar sevaks. The train had 11 coaches with vestibule connection and the kar sevaks were spread all over the train. So why did anyone target coach S-6? If 2,000 Muslims had gathered there, could they not have attacked the other coaches? Again, did anyone try to come out from the other coaches? If it is reasonably presumed that some of the passengers, including kar sevaks, rushed out, did anyone attack them? On all these questions there is no satisfactory answer.

1.10. In all, 58 bodies were found in coach S-6, out of which 26 were of women, 12 were of children and 20 were of men. It appears that 43 persons sustained injuries, of whom only 5 were admitted to the hospital. The rest were treated for minor injuries like bruises, and were allowed to go. Out of the five admitted to hospital, one died, and the rest were discharged after 3 or 4 days.

1.11. Since the bodies were charred beyond recognition, it was not possible to identify anyone on the basis of physical features. The collector of Godhra told the Tribunal that only five bodies could be identified on the basis of articles or things which were on their person. One was the local station master’s wife who had boarded the train at Godhra to go to Vadodara. She had a metal tiffin box in her hand and she was thus identified. Thus, no one could say with certainty that the dead bodies were all of kar sevaks.

2. Mystery of the Fire
2.1. A very significant fact is that coach S-6 was the only one that got burnt. The fire did not even spread to the other coaches. It is also not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire in the coach or the coach was set on fire after the train stopped. If it was the latter, why was the train stopped at all? It is reasonable to presume that because of the fire in the coach, someone must have pulled the chain and the train was stopped by the engine driver.

2.2. As the train left Godhra station, all the windows and doors of Coach S-6 were all closed. Since there was stone throwing on the train, it is reasonable to presume that similar was the situation in all the other coaches. In other words, as the train stopped, nobody from outside was in a position to identify any particular person in any particular coach, so as to target any particular person/s. If kar sevaks were the target, they were overwhelmingly present in the entire train and the whole train could have been set on fire. The fact that the fire did not even spread to the remaining coaches, is a clear indication that the fire originated in that compartment itself. That also explains why only persons in that coach died. In all probability, as the fire broke out, there was extreme panic and, the compartment being over-packed, many of the able-bodied persons managed to escape through the vestibules to the other coaches, leaving mostly women and children behind, who must have succumbed to the smoke and suffocation and fallen down in a pile, one over the other. The evidence also suggests that the passengers had stacked their belongings against the doors and it was just not possible for anyone to escape from or enter the coach.

2.3. On 7-5-2002, we inspected the coach and the site where it was burnt. The site where the train stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12-15 feet and it is a slope. At the top, there is hardly enough space for 2,000 persons to assemble on either side of the track. Assuming that so many had gathered at that spot, the crowd would be spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S-6. This is only to indicate that if the government version is true, the other coaches would have been as easy a target as Coach S-6. Again, if one takes into account the height of the bund and the height of the train, and if fire-balls were to be thrown at the train, the outside of the coach should have shown signs of being charred. But we found that there were no such marks below the windows; the charred marks were to be seen only around the windows and above that height. This is a clear indication that the fire started inside the coach and the flames leaping out of the windows singed the outside of the compartment, above window level. Therefore, even to the naked eye, it was clear that the fire was from within and not from outside.

2.4. Our own observations were subsequently confirmed by the reports of the Forensic Science Laboratory. Among its other findings, the relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory (State of Gujarat, New Mental Corner, Ahmedabad – 16, Spot Investigation Report No.2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station) filed by Dr. MS Dahiya, assistant director, states:

2.4.1. "It was found that the height of the window of the coach was around 7 ft. from the ground at the place. Under this circumstance, it was not possible to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach from any bucket or carboy, because by doing this, most of the fluid was getting thrown out side. At the place of the incidents, there was one heap of grit, of three feet height at a distance of around 14-ft,. in the southern side of the coach. Water was thrown on the windows of the coach with the help of bucket standing on the top of the said heap, in that case only about 10 to 15% of the water went inside and the rest of the quantity was spilled outside itself. Thus, if the inflammable fluid is thrown from outside, then a major part of it would fall around the track outside and catch fire and cause damage to the outer part of bottom side of the coach. But after examination of the coach and the track, no effect was found of the fire on bottom side below the windows of the coach. By taking into consideration this fact, and also the burning pattern of the outer side of the coach, a conclusion can be drawn that no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside from outside the coach."

2.4.2. "There also appears to be no possibility that any inflammable liquid was thrown through the door of the bogie."

2.4.3. "By standing in the passage between the compartment of the bogie and the northern side door of the eastern side of the bogie, water was poured towards the western side from a container with a wide mouth like a bucket; in that case most part of the bogie was covered with 60 liters of water. By pouring the water in this manner, the water went only towards the West and no part of it came out of the door, nor did it go towards the latrine side."

2.4.4. "On the basis of the above experimental demonstration, such a conclusion can be drawn that 60 liters of inflammable liquid was poured towards the western side by using a wide mouthed container by standing on the passage between the northern side door of the eastern side of the S-6 coach and the compartment of seat No. 72 and coach was set on fire immediately thereafter. If the period after the train had started from Godhra Railway Station, intensity of fire, the degree of burn of the objects that were inside the bogie etc. are taken into account, it can also be concluded that a large quantity (around 60 liters) of highly inflammable fluid was used to set the aforesaid fire and that the fire had spread very rapidly."

2.4.5. By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire."

2.4.6. Thus, it is clear that the fire came from inside. We have seen the inner side of the coach. The intensity of the fire was such that even the iron rods, the seats, the fans were all burnt to such an extent that we found them twisted and molten out of shape. We also found rice and wheat partly burnt and scattered all across the floor of compartment S-6. Some of the witnesses had stated that kar sevaks had stoves in the train, but we did not find them in the coach. The FSLR shows that for such an intensity of fire, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, "by using a wide mouthed container". The question is, where is this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was this taken inside the coach, or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armedwith trishuls and in such an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for that would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.

3. Was Godhra Pre-Planned?
3.1. The evidence as analysed above clearly indicates that the incident was not pre-planned by the Muslims, as alleged by the government. In this connection, we would like to refer to a statement made by the IGP, Railways, PP Agja recorded by the Times of India on March 29, 2002 to the effect that there is no evidence of a pre-planned conspiracy behind the Godhra incident. "The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it,’’ said Shri Agja. He further told The Times of India, standing in front of the railway police station on the platform where the trouble began:

3.2. "According to the sequence of events as found by the police, all was not well in coach S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express on that day. A group of unruly Ram sevaks had boarded the train at Lucknow without reservations and had put to discomfort the 66 genuine passengers of the coach. Some of the ticket-paying passengers had to sleep on the floor; so overcrowded had the compartment become that the ticket collector who came aboard the train at Ratlam (two stations before Godhra) was not allowed to enter the coach.

3.3. "At Godhra station, the hawkers on the platform started stoning the train after an unsavoury incident, especially targeting Coach S-6, because some occupants of the coach had given offence. At any point of time, there are some 250 hawkers on the station. Some of them carry stoves with kerosene in them. All of them live in the slum called Signal Falia, next to the station.

3.3.1."This means it is not surprising that a crowd could collect at the station so fast. The people, who live cheek by jowl in the slums next to the station, include a fair share of criminals indulging in railway crimes like looting, pick-pocketing and stealing of goods of passengers and also railway property. All of them are Ghanchi Muslims and they are uneducated, without any jobs and poor."

3.3.2. All these things are not sufficient to come to any conclusion that the attack on S-6 coach was a pre-meditated one.

4. Immediate Reaction of the Administration and the Government
4.1. The local district magistrate/collector was the first to reach the scene of the incident.

4.2. The Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee made a statement in Parliament at noon on February 27, asking people to maintain calm since the Godhra incident was a response to "slogan shouting". "An inquiry is being held and it will ascertain facts – what happened and why did it happen? But, from the preliminary reports, it appears that the train was stopped maybe because slogans were being shouted in the train and clashes took place. The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry. " (Extracts from a compilation by the PMO on PM’s reactions to the event thereafter to media persons at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, February 27, 2002, posted on the PM’s website).

4.3. From 8.30 a.m., just after the fire on the Sabarmati Express took place, until 7.30 p.m. that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Smt. Jayanthi Ravi relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that "the incident was not pre-planned, it was an accident."

4.4. The chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, accompanied by health minister, Shri Ashok Bhatt and other cabinet colleagues, arrived in Godhra around 2 p.m. that day. After meeting the collector, he decided to take the bodies to Ahmedabad. It was the decision of Shri Modi to take the badly charred bodies to Ahmedabad against the advice of the district administration. Initially, the chief minister and his colleagues had wanted to take the bodies in the same train onwards to Ahmedabad. The district administration strongly advised against this for law and order reasons, after which a motor cavalcade drove the bodies to the Sola Civil hospital at Ahmedabad.

4.5. Evidence presented before the Tribunal and confirmed by the administration revealed that 40 shops belonging to Muslims of Godhra, many of whom lived at Signal Falia, were demolished around 5.30 p.m. during curfew hours on Feb 27 itself. While the unauthorised nature of the establishments and their location being a security hazard were the reasons offered by the administration, the strange choice of timing for the demolition bears mention. What was the motivation for the civil administration in undertaking this act that caused an economic loss, of some magnitude, to one community alone, on this day?

4.6. At 7.30 p.m., chief minister, Shri Modi made a public broadcast in which, for the first time, he put forward the ‘ISI hand behind the Godhra incident’ version.

4.7. Thereafter, from the next day onwards, the Prime Minister, Shri Vajpayee called it a "national shame" and then home minister, Shri Advani also ominously pointed to the "ISI hand." Union defence minister, Shri George Fernandes, too, joined the chorus of voices, alleging that there was "a foreign hand" behind Godhra.

4.8. What could have been confined to Godhra and Godhra alone was taken and broadcast to all of Gujarat state. All that followed was directly related to Shri Modi’s decision to carry Godhra to the whole state instead of containing the issue therein.

5. Bandh Call and the Preparation
5.1. On the evening of February 27, after visiting Godhra, Shri Modi announced that there would be a state bandh thenext day. This was after the VHP and BD had already given the bandh call. Thereafter, the chief minister called a meeting of senior police officers. At this meeting, specific instructions were given by him in the presence of cabinet colleagues, on how the police should deal with the situation on the bandh day. The next day, i.e., on the day of the bandh, there was absolutely no police bandobast. The state and city (Ahmedabad) police control rooms were taken over by two ministers, i.e., Shri Ashok Bhatt and Shri Jadeja. Repeated pleas for help from people were blatantly turned down.

5.2. Senior ministers from Shri Modi’s cabinet organised a meeting late in the evening on February 27, in Lunavada village of Sabarkantha district. Shri Ashok Bhatt, the state health minister and minister Prabhat Singh Chauhan from Lunavada attended. At this meeting, a diabolical plan was drawn and disseminated to the top 50 leaders of the BJP/RSS/BD/VHP, on the method and manner in which the 72-hour-long carnage that followed was to be carried out.

5.3. According to confidential evidence recorded by the Tribunal, these instructions were blatantly disseminated by the government, and in most cases, barring a few sterling exceptions, methodically carried out by the police and the IAS administration. There is no way that the debased levels of violence that were systematically carried out in Gujarat could have been allowed, had the police and district administration, the IPS and the IAS, stood by its constitutional obligation and followed Service Rules to prevent such crimes.

5.4. The bandh call made possible exactly what the chief minister and the BJP/VHP/RSS/Bajrang Dal leadership wanted to happen after the Godhra incident.

5.5. As is amply evident from the voluminous evidence recorded by the Tribunal, and substantive other evidence made available to it, investigating officials have yet to find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre-planned. Nonetheless, Shri Modi, union home minister, Shri Advani and others continue to reiterate the distorted version of the motive behind the incident at Godhra. The electoral and related advantages for these persons in power, set to gain from the misconceptions and prevarications around Godhra, need to be understood and exposed for what they are. Thousands of innocent citizens became victims to this cynical game of politics and the priorities for India as a country were derailed by these perpetrators of hatred and division, some of whom even hold the reins of government.

5.6. News of the deaths of passengers in Coach S-6, conveyed as the killing of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, was used to fuel the rage of the other kar sevaks who then tried to attack a nearby mosque at Signal Falia. The police fired 30 tear gas shells and 14 rounds of live bullets to disperse them. The damaged coaches, S-5 and S-6 were detached, and the train departed with the rest of the passengers at 12.40 p.m. On the way to Ahmedabad, some kar sevaks reportedly stabbed 2-3 people at the Vadodara railway station, giving a clear warning of things to come. Inquest and post-mortem of all the recovered bodies was undertaken by 4.30 p.m. Under instructions from the administration in Ahmedabad, all the bodies, excluding those of the five passengers from the Godhra region, were dispatched to the Civil Hospital, at Sola, Ahmedabad, in a motor cavalcade. Shri Jaideep Patel of the BJP, and one of the main accused in the Naroda incidents, travelled to Ahmedabad along with the bodies.

5.7. It is apparent that by the evening of February 27, a well thought out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, at around 2.30 a.m., the bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad. Around 500 people were waiting outside Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 a.m. on February 28, a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound.

5.8. Sloganeering started: ‘Kar sevak, amar raho!’ and ‘Hindu ekta zindabad!’ as small bundles carrying the victims’ remains were off-loaded onto waiting stretchers. The mood was morose but tears were few. Anger welled in the eyes of bereaved relatives as each bundle – the remains of a Godhra massacre victim – was placed on ice slabs. Vows for vengeance and shouts of ‘Jai Shri Ram!’ resounded throughout the hospital compound as a martyrs’ honour was accorded to the Godhra victims. "For the nine from Amraiwadi who laid their lives for the country, there will be 90 more to replace. We had gone there for ‘yagna’ only, yet the kafirs (read Muslims) butchered the devotees. This time we will go and construct the Ram temple," said a waiting VHP man outside the hospital, as reported by the national media.

5.9. The state government and the administration, instead of appealing for restraint and peace, became the agents of a well-planned action against innocent Muslims of the state that was in fact projected as a ‘reaction.’ The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date.

5.10. A point to be noted is evidence recorded by the media, of ordinary victims of the Godhra arson, who did not wish to be part of any political project of "vengeance". The Times of India (March 3, 2002) quoted Govind Makwana, who lost his son Umakant (22) in the fire that engulfed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. "I am extremely disturbed by what is happening in our area. I had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son’s cremation to restrain themselves and maintain peace. Killing other people is not a solution. Losing a son is shattering, and I want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling".

6. Was ‘Godhra’ Allowed to Happen?
6.1. The crucial issue before the entire nation today is why ‘Godhra’ happened?

Who failed in their duty in preventing it?

6.2. Gujarat and indeed the whole country was on red alert due to the aggressive mobilisation by the VHP for building the temple at Ayodhya. In Mumbai, the police made as many as 8,000 preventive arrests in the first week of March, to keep the situation under strict control. In contrast, even after Godhra happened, the Gujarat police arrested only two persons in Ahmedabad, both of whom were Muslims.

6.3. A noticeable lapse in Godhra and in the anticipation and handling of the violence, was the blatant ignoring of the basic principles of law and order maintenance and governance in Godhra. There was utter and complete failure of law and order maintenance and governance, particularly given the chequered communal history of the town. An investigation into the background of Godhra shows that when disturbances erupted in 1965, the then collector promptly arrested both Muslims and Hindus whose names appeared in FIRs and within a couple of days the disturbances were curbed. Even after the October 1980 disturbances, the then collector, Smt. SK Verma immediately put the miscreants behind bars. If a similar, no-nonsense and non-partisan approach had followed the Godhra incident of February 27, by promptly apprehending the suspected criminals, tension would have been contained. And the chances of a vengeful and highly-organised spree of retaliatory killings that demonstrate every element of ethnic cleansing and genocide, would have been pre-empted. That this did not happen suggests a lack of intent on the part of those in government, to take prompt preventive measures in order to de-escalate the situation. In December 1992, a similar incident of provocation had occurred at Palej near Vadodara, but at that time, the state police cracked down on the Shiv Sainiks who had abused and provoked passengers and residents and thus squashed potential communal trouble within hours.

6.4. At Godhra, there is always one SRP company on duty. One Railway Protection Force contingent is posted on the railway station itself. At the RPF station, there are supposed to be 42 policemen in all. Generally, there are two constables per reserved compartment in a running train. The fact that kar sevaks were expected on this route and the fact that Godhra has a fragile communal history were, and are, themselves enough for additional precautionary deployment. Besides, as a district headquarter, Godhra has a police HQ, armed police, a control room, a town police station with eight chowkies, all equipped with telephones plus a taluka police station. It is the HQ of an SRP battalion, too, and it has a municipal Fire Brigade. All these factors are enough to make any responsible citizen wonder why adequate preventive deployment was absent during the Godhra arson.

6.5. The Tribunal met and recorded the evidence of both the collector and DySP of the Panchmahal district, of which Godhra town is the district headquarter. It is clear from the evidence recorded by us that on February 27, after the Godhra tragedy, though the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was called in, no adequate powers were given to it. Though curfew was declared in Godhra, the RAF men were made to sit in the officers’ mess, helpless, unable to do anything. It appears that though the Fire Brigade station is only 5 minutes away from the railway station, it took a while for the fire brigade to reach the torched coach. That day, there were only 3 SRP men on duty; of the 111 GRP (Government Railway Police) officers stationed at Godhra, only 2 or 3 were on duty. Two GRP jawans reached the spot within minutes; it is a matter of serious conjecture why they did not fire shots to disperse the mob.

7. Role of Fanatical Organisations
7.1. Godhra, and the tragic death of 58 passengers through gruesome burning, was picked up and propagated in Gujarat and all over the country by many fanatical organisations connected closely with the ruling BJP in Gujarat. These include the parent Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.

7.2. A serious and gross misrepresentation of facts was resorted to by these conglomerate organisations in a nationwide bid to create a hysteria over the Godhra tragedy and thus justify the state-sponsored carnage that was allowed to take place.

7.3. Within a fortnight of the statewide carnage, the RSS spokesperson, Shri MG Vaidya described it as the "natural reaction of Hindus" and gave a clean chit to the Modi administration in Gujarat, saying "no government could have controlled the upsurge." (The Times of India, March 16, 2002).

7.4. Worse still, the publications brought out by the RSS and its affiliates spread systematic and sinister misinformation about Godhra. For instance, in two publications brought out by the Hindu Samvad Kendra, Ahmedabad, the following ‘facts’ are listed to prove that Godhra was pre-planned:

u Passengers of a particular religion (read Muslims) were asked to get down at Dahod, the station before Godhra;
u The patients of a particular community (read Muslims) were discharged from the civil hospital of Godhra one day before February 27; not a single case against anyone from a particular community (read Muslims) was registered on February 27, 2002;
u Not a single student or a teacher of a particular community (read Muslims) was present in the schools of Godhra on February 27;
u Another canard that was spread deliberately was that no one from the minorities or the secular parties ever condemned Godhra.

7.5. The Tribunal investigated each of these allegations during its investigation and visit to Godhra. Each one of these reasons, propagated nationwide by these outfits, was patently false and used to generate sympathetic complicity to the gruesome state- sponsored carnage that has taken place. The fact that the district administration at Godhra and elsewhere took no initiative to scotch these fabricated stories, being used in the cynical and never-ending cycle of violence, speaks poorly of it and also reveals the state administration’s ineptness in coping with the menace that these organisations represent.

7.6. Among other things, the Tribunal is also in possession of half-a-dozen separate statements published by different Muslim religious leaders, independent persons and opposition parties, outrightly condemning the Godhra incident. Yet, repeatedly, the propaganda was unleashed that neither Muslims nor secularists have ever condemned the Godhra tragedy.

7.7. During the recording of our evidence, senior officials of the administration and police who deposed before the Tribunal on assurance of anonymity expressed concern about the fact that in most talukas of Gujarat, CDs and hate pamphlets were circulated by the VHP during March 2002, spreading ill-will, rumours and falsehoods about the conduct of Muslims. To effectively counter this trend, the administration only had to swoop down on xerox centres that were being used to reproduce bulk copies of such incendiary material.

8. Conclusion
8.1. Though all accounts suggest that there was provocation enough by the kar sevaks, nothing can justify the crime of torching 58 persons alive. The guilty need to be brought to book and punished. The tragedy and crime simply need to be placed in the charged and venomous atmosphere that the country and the polity has been held victim to, where sane, rational impulses are being overwhelmed by the politics of rage, revenge and violence.

 

Godhra Train Burning Case: Gujarat HC Upholds Trial Court Verdict but Commutes Death Sentence, Negates Findings of Citizens' Tribunal

Gujarat High Court has confirmed the trial court verdict on ‘conspiracy’ into the Godhra mass arson (February 27, 2002), commuted the sentences of 11 convicts to life imprisonment from ‘death penalty’ and refused to entertain the application to call in journalist Ashish Khetan as witness for his sting operation into the Godhra investigation, widely criticised for being partisan even after the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) re-investigated the case.

Godhra Train Burning


To put things in perspective, we reproduce below the findings of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal on the Godhra tragedy. The Tribunal was headed by Justices VR Krishna Iyer, P.B.Sawant and Hosbet Suresh and released its report on November 21-22, 2002. It had on its panel other senior jurists, activists and academics.

The handling of the Godhra case vis a vis the post Godhra reprisal killings have been often accused of being discriminatory. While the accused in the Godhra case remained as undertrials (there were 83 accused in all) without bail –POTA was imposed –till the trial coiurt judgement in early 2011, those powerful accused in the post Godhra reprisal killings roamed free withing three-six months of the massacres. Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, for instance were free from mid 2002 till early 2009 when the SIT arrested them.

Also read:
Discriminatory justice

Concerned Citizens Tribunal (November 21, 22,2002) on

Godhra
1.1.The Sabarmati Express train started from Ahmedabad for Ayodhya on February 22, 2002, with kar sevaks on board. It appears that on its onward journey to Ayodhya, there was an incident at Dahod railway station where the kar sevaks indulged in vandalism and terrorising of Muslim vendors at the station. According to another version, the Dahod incident took place on the return journey. There is no clear evidence of the date of the incident but it is clear that it took place.

1.2. There was another incident between Rudauli and Daryabad stations (closer to Faizabad) wherein the kar sevaks attacked Muslim passengers, including innocent women and children. When some young man protested against this, he was thrown off the train between Patranga and Rojagaon stations. Several women, badly wounded and covered in blood, jumped off the train at Rudauli station. The kar sevaks got off and started attacking those whom they identified as Muslim from among those present at the platform.

1.3. At Rudauli station, other similar incidents occurred, such as forcing the Muslims to shout, ‘Jai Shri Ram!’, pulling the beards of some of them, including stabbing with trishul.Despite the severity of these incidents, there was no prompt action taken either by the railway authorities or the police; nor were those seriously injured rushed to hospital. It appears that both local Hindus and Muslims condemned the attack and that Muslim religious leaders appealed for peace and urged that there should be no retaliation. (Report in Jan Morcha, published from Faizabad on February 25, 2002, two days before the Godhra incident on the return journey of the same Sabarmati Express– see Annexure 7 Volume 1.)

1.4.As the train travelled back from Ayodhya on its return journey to Ahmedabad, kar sevak girls and boys armed with trishuls and lathis, were getting down at every station and shouting slogans like, "Mandir Vahin Banayenge!","Jai Shriram!", "Muslim Bharat Chodo, Pakistan Jao" ("Muslims, Quit India! Go to Pakistan"), "Dudh mango tho kheer denge, Kashmir mango tho cheer denge" ("Ask for milk and we’ll give you kheer (pudding), But ask for Kashmir and we’ll cut you up"). Many passengers felt harassed by this behaviour but were constrained to silence because the kar sevaks had captured all the reserved seats and the train was jam-packed.

1.5. The train reached Godhra station at 7.30 a.m. (three hours late), on February 27, 2002. There were certain incidents on the platform. There were some reports to the effect that a Muslim girl was molested by the kar sevaks who attempted to pull her into the train. The attempt to take her into the train was averted due to the intervention by Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station.

1.6. In a separate incident, a Muslim tea vendor had boarded coach S-6 with an aluminum tea kitli and plastic cups to sell tea. Passengers started to buy tea from him but he was insulted by some of the kar sevaks and sent out of the coach. It appears that some kar sevaks, identified by their saffron head bands and trishuls, had climbed onto the roofs of coaches of the Sabarmati Express as it stopped at the Godhra railway station, stripped themselves and made obscene gestures at Muslim women residing just opposite the station, who had come out to perform their morning chores. There was also some stone throwing, both from within and from outside the compartments.

1.7. As the train left the platform, at 7.48 a.m., it was immediately stopped by someone pulling the chain. The obvious reason for this was to enable some of the kar sevaks who were still left behind on the platform to enter the train. The train proceeded for about a kilometre. At Singal Falia the train stopped. Whether this was on account of someone pulling the chain or otherwise is not clear. The engine driver, at that point of time, had only seen someone from outside pelting stones at the train though not at coach S-6. Soon thereafter, coach S-6 was on fire. The question is, how did the fire occur?

1.8. The version of the government appears to be that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station, who had gathered in large numbers, threw fireballs into the train and that resulted in the fire. The government version also has it that these Ghanchi Muslims wanted to attack the kar sevaks, and that there were about 2,000 Muslims who were bent on attacking the train.

1.9. It may be stated at this stage that the full capacity of the train is 1,100. But, in fact, the train at that time had about 2,000 passengers, of which about 1,700 were kar sevaks. As far as coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express is concerned, the reservation capacity is 72. However, it was jam-packed on that day. Only one coach was burned and even in that coach one is not sure how many passengers were kar sevaks. The train had 11 coaches with vestibule connection and the kar sevaks were spread all over the train. So why did anyone target coach S-6? If 2,000 Muslims had gathered there, could they not have attacked the other coaches? Again, did anyone try to come out from the other coaches? If it is reasonably presumed that some of the passengers, including kar sevaks, rushed out, did anyone attack them? On all these questions there is no satisfactory answer.

1.10. In all, 58 bodies were found in coach S-6, out of which 26 were of women, 12 were of children and 20 were of men. It appears that 43 persons sustained injuries, of whom only 5 were admitted to the hospital. The rest were treated for minor injuries like bruises, and were allowed to go. Out of the five admitted to hospital, one died, and the rest were discharged after 3 or 4 days.

1.11. Since the bodies were charred beyond recognition, it was not possible to identify anyone on the basis of physical features. The collector of Godhra told the Tribunal that only five bodies could be identified on the basis of articles or things which were on their person. One was the local station master’s wife who had boarded the train at Godhra to go to Vadodara. She had a metal tiffin box in her hand and she was thus identified. Thus, no one could say with certainty that the dead bodies were all of kar sevaks.

2. Mystery of the Fire
2.1. A very significant fact is that coach S-6 was the only one that got burnt. The fire did not even spread to the other coaches. It is also not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire in the coach or the coach was set on fire after the train stopped. If it was the latter, why was the train stopped at all? It is reasonable to presume that because of the fire in the coach, someone must have pulled the chain and the train was stopped by the engine driver.

2.2. As the train left Godhra station, all the windows and doors of Coach S-6 were all closed. Since there was stone throwing on the train, it is reasonable to presume that similar was the situation in all the other coaches. In other words, as the train stopped, nobody from outside was in a position to identify any particular person in any particular coach, so as to target any particular person/s. If kar sevaks were the target, they were overwhelmingly present in the entire train and the whole train could have been set on fire. The fact that the fire did not even spread to the remaining coaches, is a clear indication that the fire originated in that compartment itself. That also explains why only persons in that coach died. In all probability, as the fire broke out, there was extreme panic and, the compartment being over-packed, many of the able-bodied persons managed to escape through the vestibules to the other coaches, leaving mostly women and children behind, who must have succumbed to the smoke and suffocation and fallen down in a pile, one over the other. The evidence also suggests that the passengers had stacked their belongings against the doors and it was just not possible for anyone to escape from or enter the coach.

2.3. On 7-5-2002, we inspected the coach and the site where it was burnt. The site where the train stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12-15 feet and it is a slope. At the top, there is hardly enough space for 2,000 persons to assemble on either side of the track. Assuming that so many had gathered at that spot, the crowd would be spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S-6. This is only to indicate that if the government version is true, the other coaches would have been as easy a target as Coach S-6. Again, if one takes into account the height of the bund and the height of the train, and if fire-balls were to be thrown at the train, the outside of the coach should have shown signs of being charred. But we found that there were no such marks below the windows; the charred marks were to be seen only around the windows and above that height. This is a clear indication that the fire started inside the coach and the flames leaping out of the windows singed the outside of the compartment, above window level. Therefore, even to the naked eye, it was clear that the fire was from within and not from outside.

2.4. Our own observations were subsequently confirmed by the reports of the Forensic Science Laboratory. Among its other findings, the relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory (State of Gujarat, New Mental Corner, Ahmedabad – 16, Spot Investigation Report No.2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station) filed by Dr. MS Dahiya, assistant director, states:

2.4.1. "It was found that the height of the window of the coach was around 7 ft. from the ground at the place. Under this circumstance, it was not possible to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach from any bucket or carboy, because by doing this, most of the fluid was getting thrown out side. At the place of the incidents, there was one heap of grit, of three feet height at a distance of around 14-ft,. in the southern side of the coach. Water was thrown on the windows of the coach with the help of bucket standing on the top of the said heap, in that case only about 10 to 15% of the water went inside and the rest of the quantity was spilled outside itself. Thus, if the inflammable fluid is thrown from outside, then a major part of it would fall around the track outside and catch fire and cause damage to the outer part of bottom side of the coach. But after examination of the coach and the track, no effect was found of the fire on bottom side below the windows of the coach. By taking into consideration this fact, and also the burning pattern of the outer side of the coach, a conclusion can be drawn that no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside from outside the coach."

2.4.2. "There also appears to be no possibility that any inflammable liquid was thrown through the door of the bogie."

2.4.3. "By standing in the passage between the compartment of the bogie and the northern side door of the eastern side of the bogie, water was poured towards the western side from a container with a wide mouth like a bucket; in that case most part of the bogie was covered with 60 liters of water. By pouring the water in this manner, the water went only towards the West and no part of it came out of the door, nor did it go towards the latrine side."

2.4.4. "On the basis of the above experimental demonstration, such a conclusion can be drawn that 60 liters of inflammable liquid was poured towards the western side by using a wide mouthed container by standing on the passage between the northern side door of the eastern side of the S-6 coach and the compartment of seat No. 72 and coach was set on fire immediately thereafter. If the period after the train had started from Godhra Railway Station, intensity of fire, the degree of burn of the objects that were inside the bogie etc. are taken into account, it can also be concluded that a large quantity (around 60 liters) of highly inflammable fluid was used to set the aforesaid fire and that the fire had spread very rapidly."

2.4.5. By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire."

2.4.6. Thus, it is clear that the fire came from inside. We have seen the inner side of the coach. The intensity of the fire was such that even the iron rods, the seats, the fans were all burnt to such an extent that we found them twisted and molten out of shape. We also found rice and wheat partly burnt and scattered all across the floor of compartment S-6. Some of the witnesses had stated that kar sevaks had stoves in the train, but we did not find them in the coach. The FSLR shows that for such an intensity of fire, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, "by using a wide mouthed container". The question is, where is this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was this taken inside the coach, or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armedwith trishuls and in such an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for that would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.

3. Was Godhra Pre-Planned?
3.1. The evidence as analysed above clearly indicates that the incident was not pre-planned by the Muslims, as alleged by the government. In this connection, we would like to refer to a statement made by the IGP, Railways, PP Agja recorded by the Times of India on March 29, 2002 to the effect that there is no evidence of a pre-planned conspiracy behind the Godhra incident. "The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it,’’ said Shri Agja. He further told The Times of India, standing in front of the railway police station on the platform where the trouble began:

3.2. "According to the sequence of events as found by the police, all was not well in coach S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express on that day. A group of unruly Ram sevaks had boarded the train at Lucknow without reservations and had put to discomfort the 66 genuine passengers of the coach. Some of the ticket-paying passengers had to sleep on the floor; so overcrowded had the compartment become that the ticket collector who came aboard the train at Ratlam (two stations before Godhra) was not allowed to enter the coach.

3.3. "At Godhra station, the hawkers on the platform started stoning the train after an unsavoury incident, especially targeting Coach S-6, because some occupants of the coach had given offence. At any point of time, there are some 250 hawkers on the station. Some of them carry stoves with kerosene in them. All of them live in the slum called Signal Falia, next to the station.

3.3.1."This means it is not surprising that a crowd could collect at the station so fast. The people, who live cheek by jowl in the slums next to the station, include a fair share of criminals indulging in railway crimes like looting, pick-pocketing and stealing of goods of passengers and also railway property. All of them are Ghanchi Muslims and they are uneducated, without any jobs and poor."

3.3.2. All these things are not sufficient to come to any conclusion that the attack on S-6 coach was a pre-meditated one.

4. Immediate Reaction of the Administration and the Government
4.1. The local district magistrate/collector was the first to reach the scene of the incident.

4.2. The Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee made a statement in Parliament at noon on February 27, asking people to maintain calm since the Godhra incident was a response to "slogan shouting". "An inquiry is being held and it will ascertain facts – what happened and why did it happen? But, from the preliminary reports, it appears that the train was stopped maybe because slogans were being shouted in the train and clashes took place. The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry. " (Extracts from a compilation by the PMO on PM’s reactions to the event thereafter to media persons at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, February 27, 2002, posted on the PM’s website).

4.3. From 8.30 a.m., just after the fire on the Sabarmati Express took place, until 7.30 p.m. that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra district collector, Smt. Jayanthi Ravi relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that "the incident was not pre-planned, it was an accident."

4.4. The chief minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, accompanied by health minister, Shri Ashok Bhatt and other cabinet colleagues, arrived in Godhra around 2 p.m. that day. After meeting the collector, he decided to take the bodies to Ahmedabad. It was the decision of Shri Modi to take the badly charred bodies to Ahmedabad against the advice of the district administration. Initially, the chief minister and his colleagues had wanted to take the bodies in the same train onwards to Ahmedabad. The district administration strongly advised against this for law and order reasons, after which a motor cavalcade drove the bodies to the Sola Civil hospital at Ahmedabad.

4.5. Evidence presented before the Tribunal and confirmed by the administration revealed that 40 shops belonging to Muslims of Godhra, many of whom lived at Signal Falia, were demolished around 5.30 p.m. during curfew hours on Feb 27 itself. While the unauthorised nature of the establishments and their location being a security hazard were the reasons offered by the administration, the strange choice of timing for the demolition bears mention. What was the motivation for the civil administration in undertaking this act that caused an economic loss, of some magnitude, to one community alone, on this day?

4.6. At 7.30 p.m., chief minister, Shri Modi made a public broadcast in which, for the first time, he put forward the ‘ISI hand behind the Godhra incident’ version.

4.7. Thereafter, from the next day onwards, the Prime Minister, Shri Vajpayee called it a "national shame" and then home minister, Shri Advani also ominously pointed to the "ISI hand." Union defence minister, Shri George Fernandes, too, joined the chorus of voices, alleging that there was "a foreign hand" behind Godhra.

4.8. What could have been confined to Godhra and Godhra alone was taken and broadcast to all of Gujarat state. All that followed was directly related to Shri Modi’s decision to carry Godhra to the whole state instead of containing the issue therein.

5. Bandh Call and the Preparation
5.1. On the evening of February 27, after visiting Godhra, Shri Modi announced that there would be a state bandh thenext day. This was after the VHP and BD had already given the bandh call. Thereafter, the chief minister called a meeting of senior police officers. At this meeting, specific instructions were given by him in the presence of cabinet colleagues, on how the police should deal with the situation on the bandh day. The next day, i.e., on the day of the bandh, there was absolutely no police bandobast. The state and city (Ahmedabad) police control rooms were taken over by two ministers, i.e., Shri Ashok Bhatt and Shri Jadeja. Repeated pleas for help from people were blatantly turned down.

5.2. Senior ministers from Shri Modi’s cabinet organised a meeting late in the evening on February 27, in Lunavada village of Sabarkantha district. Shri Ashok Bhatt, the state health minister and minister Prabhat Singh Chauhan from Lunavada attended. At this meeting, a diabolical plan was drawn and disseminated to the top 50 leaders of the BJP/RSS/BD/VHP, on the method and manner in which the 72-hour-long carnage that followed was to be carried out.

5.3. According to confidential evidence recorded by the Tribunal, these instructions were blatantly disseminated by the government, and in most cases, barring a few sterling exceptions, methodically carried out by the police and the IAS administration. There is no way that the debased levels of violence that were systematically carried out in Gujarat could have been allowed, had the police and district administration, the IPS and the IAS, stood by its constitutional obligation and followed Service Rules to prevent such crimes.

5.4. The bandh call made possible exactly what the chief minister and the BJP/VHP/RSS/Bajrang Dal leadership wanted to happen after the Godhra incident.

5.5. As is amply evident from the voluminous evidence recorded by the Tribunal, and substantive other evidence made available to it, investigating officials have yet to find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre-planned. Nonetheless, Shri Modi, union home minister, Shri Advani and others continue to reiterate the distorted version of the motive behind the incident at Godhra. The electoral and related advantages for these persons in power, set to gain from the misconceptions and prevarications around Godhra, need to be understood and exposed for what they are. Thousands of innocent citizens became victims to this cynical game of politics and the priorities for India as a country were derailed by these perpetrators of hatred and division, some of whom even hold the reins of government.

5.6. News of the deaths of passengers in Coach S-6, conveyed as the killing of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, was used to fuel the rage of the other kar sevaks who then tried to attack a nearby mosque at Signal Falia. The police fired 30 tear gas shells and 14 rounds of live bullets to disperse them. The damaged coaches, S-5 and S-6 were detached, and the train departed with the rest of the passengers at 12.40 p.m. On the way to Ahmedabad, some kar sevaks reportedly stabbed 2-3 people at the Vadodara railway station, giving a clear warning of things to come. Inquest and post-mortem of all the recovered bodies was undertaken by 4.30 p.m. Under instructions from the administration in Ahmedabad, all the bodies, excluding those of the five passengers from the Godhra region, were dispatched to the Civil Hospital, at Sola, Ahmedabad, in a motor cavalcade. Shri Jaideep Patel of the BJP, and one of the main accused in the Naroda incidents, travelled to Ahmedabad along with the bodies.

5.7. It is apparent that by the evening of February 27, a well thought out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, at around 2.30 a.m., the bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad. Around 500 people were waiting outside Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 a.m. on February 28, a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound.

5.8. Sloganeering started: ‘Kar sevak, amar raho!’ and ‘Hindu ekta zindabad!’ as small bundles carrying the victims’ remains were off-loaded onto waiting stretchers. The mood was morose but tears were few. Anger welled in the eyes of bereaved relatives as each bundle – the remains of a Godhra massacre victim – was placed on ice slabs. Vows for vengeance and shouts of ‘Jai Shri Ram!’ resounded throughout the hospital compound as a martyrs’ honour was accorded to the Godhra victims. "For the nine from Amraiwadi who laid their lives for the country, there will be 90 more to replace. We had gone there for ‘yagna’ only, yet the kafirs (read Muslims) butchered the devotees. This time we will go and construct the Ram temple," said a waiting VHP man outside the hospital, as reported by the national media.

5.9. The state government and the administration, instead of appealing for restraint and peace, became the agents of a well-planned action against innocent Muslims of the state that was in fact projected as a ‘reaction.’ The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra arson were used to launch a statewide pogrom of decimation that has not entirely stopped to date.

5.10. A point to be noted is evidence recorded by the media, of ordinary victims of the Godhra arson, who did not wish to be part of any political project of "vengeance". The Times of India (March 3, 2002) quoted Govind Makwana, who lost his son Umakant (22) in the fire that engulfed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express. "I am extremely disturbed by what is happening in our area. I had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son’s cremation to restrain themselves and maintain peace. Killing other people is not a solution. Losing a son is shattering, and I want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling".

6. Was ‘Godhra’ Allowed to Happen?
6.1. The crucial issue before the entire nation today is why ‘Godhra’ happened?

Who failed in their duty in preventing it?

6.2. Gujarat and indeed the whole country was on red alert due to the aggressive mobilisation by the VHP for building the temple at Ayodhya. In Mumbai, the police made as many as 8,000 preventive arrests in the first week of March, to keep the situation under strict control. In contrast, even after Godhra happened, the Gujarat police arrested only two persons in Ahmedabad, both of whom were Muslims.

6.3. A noticeable lapse in Godhra and in the anticipation and handling of the violence, was the blatant ignoring of the basic principles of law and order maintenance and governance in Godhra. There was utter and complete failure of law and order maintenance and governance, particularly given the chequered communal history of the town. An investigation into the background of Godhra shows that when disturbances erupted in 1965, the then collector promptly arrested both Muslims and Hindus whose names appeared in FIRs and within a couple of days the disturbances were curbed. Even after the October 1980 disturbances, the then collector, Smt. SK Verma immediately put the miscreants behind bars. If a similar, no-nonsense and non-partisan approach had followed the Godhra incident of February 27, by promptly apprehending the suspected criminals, tension would have been contained. And the chances of a vengeful and highly-organised spree of retaliatory killings that demonstrate every element of ethnic cleansing and genocide, would have been pre-empted. That this did not happen suggests a lack of intent on the part of those in government, to take prompt preventive measures in order to de-escalate the situation. In December 1992, a similar incident of provocation had occurred at Palej near Vadodara, but at that time, the state police cracked down on the Shiv Sainiks who had abused and provoked passengers and residents and thus squashed potential communal trouble within hours.

6.4. At Godhra, there is always one SRP company on duty. One Railway Protection Force contingent is posted on the railway station itself. At the RPF station, there are supposed to be 42 policemen in all. Generally, there are two constables per reserved compartment in a running train. The fact that kar sevaks were expected on this route and the fact that Godhra has a fragile communal history were, and are, themselves enough for additional precautionary deployment. Besides, as a district headquarter, Godhra has a police HQ, armed police, a control room, a town police station with eight chowkies, all equipped with telephones plus a taluka police station. It is the HQ of an SRP battalion, too, and it has a municipal Fire Brigade. All these factors are enough to make any responsible citizen wonder why adequate preventive deployment was absent during the Godhra arson.

6.5. The Tribunal met and recorded the evidence of both the collector and DySP of the Panchmahal district, of which Godhra town is the district headquarter. It is clear from the evidence recorded by us that on February 27, after the Godhra tragedy, though the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was called in, no adequate powers were given to it. Though curfew was declared in Godhra, the RAF men were made to sit in the officers’ mess, helpless, unable to do anything. It appears that though the Fire Brigade station is only 5 minutes away from the railway station, it took a while for the fire brigade to reach the torched coach. That day, there were only 3 SRP men on duty; of the 111 GRP (Government Railway Police) officers stationed at Godhra, only 2 or 3 were on duty. Two GRP jawans reached the spot within minutes; it is a matter of serious conjecture why they did not fire shots to disperse the mob.

7. Role of Fanatical Organisations
7.1. Godhra, and the tragic death of 58 passengers through gruesome burning, was picked up and propagated in Gujarat and all over the country by many fanatical organisations connected closely with the ruling BJP in Gujarat. These include the parent Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.

7.2. A serious and gross misrepresentation of facts was resorted to by these conglomerate organisations in a nationwide bid to create a hysteria over the Godhra tragedy and thus justify the state-sponsored carnage that was allowed to take place.

7.3. Within a fortnight of the statewide carnage, the RSS spokesperson, Shri MG Vaidya described it as the "natural reaction of Hindus" and gave a clean chit to the Modi administration in Gujarat, saying "no government could have controlled the upsurge." (The Times of India, March 16, 2002).

7.4. Worse still, the publications brought out by the RSS and its affiliates spread systematic and sinister misinformation about Godhra. For instance, in two publications brought out by the Hindu Samvad Kendra, Ahmedabad, the following ‘facts’ are listed to prove that Godhra was pre-planned:

u Passengers of a particular religion (read Muslims) were asked to get down at Dahod, the station before Godhra;
u The patients of a particular community (read Muslims) were discharged from the civil hospital of Godhra one day before February 27; not a single case against anyone from a particular community (read Muslims) was registered on February 27, 2002;
u Not a single student or a teacher of a particular community (read Muslims) was present in the schools of Godhra on February 27;
u Another canard that was spread deliberately was that no one from the minorities or the secular parties ever condemned Godhra.

7.5. The Tribunal investigated each of these allegations during its investigation and visit to Godhra. Each one of these reasons, propagated nationwide by these outfits, was patently false and used to generate sympathetic complicity to the gruesome state- sponsored carnage that has taken place. The fact that the district administration at Godhra and elsewhere took no initiative to scotch these fabricated stories, being used in the cynical and never-ending cycle of violence, speaks poorly of it and also reveals the state administration’s ineptness in coping with the menace that these organisations represent.

7.6. Among other things, the Tribunal is also in possession of half-a-dozen separate statements published by different Muslim religious leaders, independent persons and opposition parties, outrightly condemning the Godhra incident. Yet, repeatedly, the propaganda was unleashed that neither Muslims nor secularists have ever condemned the Godhra tragedy.

7.7. During the recording of our evidence, senior officials of the administration and police who deposed before the Tribunal on assurance of anonymity expressed concern about the fact that in most talukas of Gujarat, CDs and hate pamphlets were circulated by the VHP during March 2002, spreading ill-will, rumours and falsehoods about the conduct of Muslims. To effectively counter this trend, the administration only had to swoop down on xerox centres that were being used to reproduce bulk copies of such incendiary material.

8. Conclusion
8.1. Though all accounts suggest that there was provocation enough by the kar sevaks, nothing can justify the crime of torching 58 persons alive. The guilty need to be brought to book and punished. The tragedy and crime simply need to be placed in the charged and venomous atmosphere that the country and the polity has been held victim to, where sane, rational impulses are being overwhelmed by the politics of rage, revenge and violence.

 

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01 Jul 2007

Displaced victims of Ode

Report of the National Commission for Minorities’ visit to Gujarat, October 13-17, 2006

On August 29, 2006, complaints from social activists were received by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on the plight of persons displaced as a result of communal violence in 2002. They pointed out that more than 5,000 Muslim families in Gujarat are staying in makeshift colonies in four districts of Gujarat. In view of the tense situation in their original place of residence, these people are unable to return. In the absence of basic amenities like safe drinking water, drainage, health education, etc, the condition of those living in these colonies is pitiable. They therefore requested the NCM to make a first-hand assessment of the entire issue by visiting the camps and to issue suitable directives to the government on the basis of their findings.

The matter was considered at a formal meeting of the commission held on September 7, 2006. At this meeting, it was decided that a three-member team, consisting of the vice chairman and two members, would visit Gujarat for this purpose over a period of three days (in the case of the vice chairman and member one) and five days (in the case of member two). The team visited a large number of camps. Member two visited 17 colonies in the districts of Panchmahal, Dahod, Sabarkantha and the city of Ahmedabad while the vice chairman and member one visited colonies in Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha. The team had an opportunity to interact with members of civil society, NGOs, groups involved in rehabilitation and with inhabitants of camps as well as those who had suffered as a result of the riots. On the third day the team had a long meeting with officials of the state government led by the chief secretary and finished up with a session with the chief minister of Gujarat. The main findings of the team are summarised below:

Observation, complaints and demands of residents of rehabilitation colonies

1. During its visit to the rehabilitation colonies, the NCM team was accompanied by district collectors in each of the four districts as well as by local government officials concerned with development, including district development officers (DDOs), taluka development officers (TDOs), officials of the revenue department, including talatis and mamlatdars, and by officials of the municipal authorities in nagar palika areas and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The NCM team found that these colonies have come into existence after the violence of 2002. They house people who, prior to the riots, had lived elsewhere. Several colonies were found to be housing people who are witnesses in major legal cases.

2. The NCM team noted with concern that not a single colony was constructed by the state government, nor was any land allotted by the state government. All the colonies were built on land purchased at commercial rates primarily by a range of Muslim organisations and NGOs, including the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, Islamic Relief Committee, Gujarat Sarvojanik Relief Committee, etc. During the tour of the camps, members observed that residents were denied the most rudimentary civic amenities. They are deprived of potable water, sanitary facilities, street lights, schools and primary health care centres. The poor condition of the approach roads was repeatedly highlighted and the team heard reports of how in the absence of such roads even adolescent boys were drowned in the water that had collected near the village after the monsoon when the roads are submerged under several feet of water. The accumulated garbage, the slush and the puddles of water are a source of debilitating diseases, including some infectious ones.

3. The residents were frustrated by their inability to earn their own livelihood and to support themselves in the manner to which they were accustomed. Before the violence many of these people were small self-employed traders, artisans or industrialists. The violence put an end to their means of livelihood since their old clients were unwilling to use their services. The impression the team received is that very few of them were employed in service. In the new environment, they are unable to resume their earlier professions and because of this they find it difficult to survive.

4. NCM members examined the homes in several rehabilitation colonies and found evidence of abject poverty. With some exceptions, the houses contained little except for bedding and kitchen utensils. Despite these signs of poverty, the NCM found that many residents did not have ration cards. Even when ration cards were issued, most of the residents were given above the poverty line (APL) ration cards instead of below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards. This makes a big difference because BPL ration card holders are entitled to get food grains, cereals, kerosene and other basic consumer items at subsidised rates. Indeed, in several camps, especially in rural areas, the women without exception had just one major demand: they wanted BPL ration cards to be issued to them.

5. Interaction with members of civil society, NGOs and those affected by the riots threw up several problems. Residents complained about the atmosphere of insecurity in which they had to live. The team received several complaints about the hostile attitude of the police towards the residents of these colonies or their representatives who have taken up their problems with relevant authorities. In addition to the palpable sense of insecurity in which most of the victims continue to live, there were several complaints that compensation given for the extensive losses suffered by riot victims was completely inadequate. The team was told that the state government has restricted compensation in respect of damage to houses to a maximum of Rs 10, 000. Other complaints referred to the absence of suitable rehabilitation facilities since the state government concentrated only on immediate relief. Since the remit of the team was to look into issues of rehabilitation, we concentrated more closely on these.

The state government should prepare a special economic package for those displaced by the violence with a special focus on livelihood issues. For the self-employed, special efforts should be made to provide inputs like easy credit, raw material and marketing assistance

6. During interaction with the state government we raised the question of the sum of Rs 19.10 crore that had been returned by the government of Gujarat to the government of India since it had not been utilised. Government officials explained that there were no further demands under the particular heads under which these grants had been advanced by the Centre. As a result, auditors had pointed out to the ministries concerned in the government of India that the money should be returned if it could not be utilised for the purpose for which it was intended. The NCM team pointed out that if more people were covered under the relevant schemes it would be possible to utilise the entire amount allotted. In the course of our visits to the camps we found several people who are in need of funds under different schemes. If the state government was able to identify such people and extend the benefits of the scheme to them they would be able to utilise the entire money allotted.

7. The team noted with concern that the state was not in the forefront of the move to provide rehabilitation to those who could not return to their homes after the riots. As pointed out elsewhere, the state government has not been involved in constructing houses for the violence affected thus leaving the rehabilitation process to private organisations. If these private organisations were NGOs whose brief was to serve the riot affected that would still be appropriate. But this is not so. Some of the organisations that are active in the field are not purely philanthropic or service oriented. This space that should have been occupied by the state is now being held by bodies which have a definite agenda of their own. The implications that this has for the severity and well-being of civil society as a whole are extremely serious.

8. The NCM team received repeated demands by the victims as well as NGOs for a policy package that would be applicable to all displaced persons. In our view, the time has come to look at this question very seriously. Riots, disturbances or other calamities occur at regular intervals. If, as a result of such occurrences, people are displaced and are unable to return to their usual places of residence, some responsibility for their welfare must devolve on the state.

Main findings

Having visited several camp sites and interacted with members of civil society, victims and activists in the field, and government officials, the NCM came to the following conclusions:

1. The NCM found overwhelming evidence that there continue to be large numbers of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat who are living in subhuman conditions in colonies constructed entirely by NGOs.

2. They are not there by choice but because they are unable to return to their original place of habitation.

3. There has been no support from the state to compensate them for their loss of habitual place of residence and normal livelihood or provide basic services and livelihood options to allow them to live with dignity in their present location.

4. There has been no attempt to secure a safe environment or facilitate their return to their homes.

5. Local Muslim organisers who have tried to procure some rights and entitlements for these displaced survivors have found themselves the targets of threat and harassment by the local police.

6. Far from admitting that the inmates were in fact ‘internally displaced persons’, the authorities argued that they have chosen to willingly remain in the camps even after some of their family members had returned to their original habitation where they continued to live and ply their trades in absolute security. The NCM team found such reasoning to be erroneous. It noted that the residents of these colonies fear to return to the places they had fled partly because they have nothing left back home to return to and partly because many of them are eyewitnesses to murders, arson and looting during the communal violence.

Recommendations

The NCM would like to make three sets of recommendations to the state government and central government to improve the lot of residents of the makeshift camps: (1) Basic amenities and livelihood issues; (2) Central government economic package; (3) National policies on rehabilitation of internally displaced due to violence.

1. Basic amenities and livelihood in the rehabilitation colonies

Basic amenities must be provided in the camps of displaced victims. These would cover provision of safe drinking water, street lights, approach roads, etc. This should be done by the state government.

The government of India should agree that for a period of five years or until they continue to live in camps, whichever is earlier, all the inhabitants of such camps should be given BPL ration cards without going through the formalities laid down by the government for the issue of such cards. Similarly, widows should be allowed to claim their pension even if they have not applied within two years or even if they have sons above the age of 18.

The state government should prepare a special economic package for those displaced by the violence with a special focus on livelihood issues. For the self-employed, special efforts should be made to provide inputs like easy credit, raw material and marketing assistance. We strongly believe that this is a vital element in the rehabilitation scenario and that for it to be successfully implemented NGOs should be involved in it.

Wherever possible the state should take advantage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme to cover able-bodied people in these camps and give them employment.

The government of India should return the amount of Rs 19.10 crore given back by the government of Gujarat. The state government should be asked to cover more beneficiaries under the schemes in an attempt to utilise the entire sum.

There should be a monitoring committee, consisting of representatives of the state government and civil society, which will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the schemes described above are properly implemented.

2. A special economic package for rehabilitation of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat

There is an urgent need for the central government to design and implement an immediate special economic package for the rehabilitation of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat. The package must include a set of inputs that would address the totality of livelihood concerns. In particular, attention must be paid to the availability of credit, raw material and marketing support, where necessary, with the help of NGOs.

3. A national policy on internal displacement due to violence

There is a need to design a national policy on internal displacement due to violence. Populations displaced due to sectarian, ethnic or communal violence should not be left to suffer for years together due to the lack of a policy and a justiciable framework for entitlements.

The preamble of the new Draft National Rehabilitation Policy 2006 (NRP 2006), which incorporates recommendations made by the National Advisory Council, provides a precedent and sensitive understanding of how displacement due to any reason affects people. It describes displacement in the following terms, "…displacement of people, depriving them of their land, livelihood and shelter, restricting their access to traditional resource bases and uprooting them from their socio-cultural environment. These have traumatic psychological and socio-cultural consequences on the displaced population…" However, the NRP 2006 pertains only to planned displacement due to development imperatives. When displacement takes place due to mass violence, entailing loss of life, property, family and loved ones, and a total destruction of the fabric of the socio-economic and cultural community, then the rehabilitation of the internally displaced population calls for a new framework of understanding.

When displacement takes place under conditions of fear and under constant direct threat in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution (guaranteeing the protection of life and personal liberty), the trauma and the conditions under which survivors face the future is considerably worsened. Further, when the threat of violence is perceived to be continuing (as it currently is in the state of Gujarat), in the absence of justice, and in a situation of discrimination and exclusion, the protection of people’s constitutional rights can only be sought through a national policy which clearly lays out a non-negotiable framework of entitlements. Any national policy on internal displacement due to violence must be designed to include provisions for immediate compensation and rehabilitation. A national policy on internal displacement due to violence must further take into account the displaced populations’ aspirations to ‘return to their home’ and make provisions to facilitate the return, if it is possible under conditions of safety and security, and to restore the displaced families to their original conditions of living.

A national policy on internal displacement due to violence must also lay down specified time frames for the implementation of a rehabilitation plan, and include an effective grievances redressal and monitoring mechanism.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, For The Record 2

Need of the hour


Displaced victims of Ode

Report of the National Commission for Minorities’ visit to Gujarat, October 13-17, 2006

On August 29, 2006, complaints from social activists were received by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) on the plight of persons displaced as a result of communal violence in 2002. They pointed out that more than 5,000 Muslim families in Gujarat are staying in makeshift colonies in four districts of Gujarat. In view of the tense situation in their original place of residence, these people are unable to return. In the absence of basic amenities like safe drinking water, drainage, health education, etc, the condition of those living in these colonies is pitiable. They therefore requested the NCM to make a first-hand assessment of the entire issue by visiting the camps and to issue suitable directives to the government on the basis of their findings.

The matter was considered at a formal meeting of the commission held on September 7, 2006. At this meeting, it was decided that a three-member team, consisting of the vice chairman and two members, would visit Gujarat for this purpose over a period of three days (in the case of the vice chairman and member one) and five days (in the case of member two). The team visited a large number of camps. Member two visited 17 colonies in the districts of Panchmahal, Dahod, Sabarkantha and the city of Ahmedabad while the vice chairman and member one visited colonies in Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha. The team had an opportunity to interact with members of civil society, NGOs, groups involved in rehabilitation and with inhabitants of camps as well as those who had suffered as a result of the riots. On the third day the team had a long meeting with officials of the state government led by the chief secretary and finished up with a session with the chief minister of Gujarat. The main findings of the team are summarised below:

Observation, complaints and demands of residents of rehabilitation colonies

1. During its visit to the rehabilitation colonies, the NCM team was accompanied by district collectors in each of the four districts as well as by local government officials concerned with development, including district development officers (DDOs), taluka development officers (TDOs), officials of the revenue department, including talatis and mamlatdars, and by officials of the municipal authorities in nagar palika areas and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The NCM team found that these colonies have come into existence after the violence of 2002. They house people who, prior to the riots, had lived elsewhere. Several colonies were found to be housing people who are witnesses in major legal cases.

2. The NCM team noted with concern that not a single colony was constructed by the state government, nor was any land allotted by the state government. All the colonies were built on land purchased at commercial rates primarily by a range of Muslim organisations and NGOs, including the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, Islamic Relief Committee, Gujarat Sarvojanik Relief Committee, etc. During the tour of the camps, members observed that residents were denied the most rudimentary civic amenities. They are deprived of potable water, sanitary facilities, street lights, schools and primary health care centres. The poor condition of the approach roads was repeatedly highlighted and the team heard reports of how in the absence of such roads even adolescent boys were drowned in the water that had collected near the village after the monsoon when the roads are submerged under several feet of water. The accumulated garbage, the slush and the puddles of water are a source of debilitating diseases, including some infectious ones.

3. The residents were frustrated by their inability to earn their own livelihood and to support themselves in the manner to which they were accustomed. Before the violence many of these people were small self-employed traders, artisans or industrialists. The violence put an end to their means of livelihood since their old clients were unwilling to use their services. The impression the team received is that very few of them were employed in service. In the new environment, they are unable to resume their earlier professions and because of this they find it difficult to survive.

4. NCM members examined the homes in several rehabilitation colonies and found evidence of abject poverty. With some exceptions, the houses contained little except for bedding and kitchen utensils. Despite these signs of poverty, the NCM found that many residents did not have ration cards. Even when ration cards were issued, most of the residents were given above the poverty line (APL) ration cards instead of below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards. This makes a big difference because BPL ration card holders are entitled to get food grains, cereals, kerosene and other basic consumer items at subsidised rates. Indeed, in several camps, especially in rural areas, the women without exception had just one major demand: they wanted BPL ration cards to be issued to them.

5. Interaction with members of civil society, NGOs and those affected by the riots threw up several problems. Residents complained about the atmosphere of insecurity in which they had to live. The team received several complaints about the hostile attitude of the police towards the residents of these colonies or their representatives who have taken up their problems with relevant authorities. In addition to the palpable sense of insecurity in which most of the victims continue to live, there were several complaints that compensation given for the extensive losses suffered by riot victims was completely inadequate. The team was told that the state government has restricted compensation in respect of damage to houses to a maximum of Rs 10, 000. Other complaints referred to the absence of suitable rehabilitation facilities since the state government concentrated only on immediate relief. Since the remit of the team was to look into issues of rehabilitation, we concentrated more closely on these.

The state government should prepare a special economic package for those displaced by the violence with a special focus on livelihood issues. For the self-employed, special efforts should be made to provide inputs like easy credit, raw material and marketing assistance

6. During interaction with the state government we raised the question of the sum of Rs 19.10 crore that had been returned by the government of Gujarat to the government of India since it had not been utilised. Government officials explained that there were no further demands under the particular heads under which these grants had been advanced by the Centre. As a result, auditors had pointed out to the ministries concerned in the government of India that the money should be returned if it could not be utilised for the purpose for which it was intended. The NCM team pointed out that if more people were covered under the relevant schemes it would be possible to utilise the entire amount allotted. In the course of our visits to the camps we found several people who are in need of funds under different schemes. If the state government was able to identify such people and extend the benefits of the scheme to them they would be able to utilise the entire money allotted.

7. The team noted with concern that the state was not in the forefront of the move to provide rehabilitation to those who could not return to their homes after the riots. As pointed out elsewhere, the state government has not been involved in constructing houses for the violence affected thus leaving the rehabilitation process to private organisations. If these private organisations were NGOs whose brief was to serve the riot affected that would still be appropriate. But this is not so. Some of the organisations that are active in the field are not purely philanthropic or service oriented. This space that should have been occupied by the state is now being held by bodies which have a definite agenda of their own. The implications that this has for the severity and well-being of civil society as a whole are extremely serious.

8. The NCM team received repeated demands by the victims as well as NGOs for a policy package that would be applicable to all displaced persons. In our view, the time has come to look at this question very seriously. Riots, disturbances or other calamities occur at regular intervals. If, as a result of such occurrences, people are displaced and are unable to return to their usual places of residence, some responsibility for their welfare must devolve on the state.

Main findings

Having visited several camp sites and interacted with members of civil society, victims and activists in the field, and government officials, the NCM came to the following conclusions:

1. The NCM found overwhelming evidence that there continue to be large numbers of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat who are living in subhuman conditions in colonies constructed entirely by NGOs.

2. They are not there by choice but because they are unable to return to their original place of habitation.

3. There has been no support from the state to compensate them for their loss of habitual place of residence and normal livelihood or provide basic services and livelihood options to allow them to live with dignity in their present location.

4. There has been no attempt to secure a safe environment or facilitate their return to their homes.

5. Local Muslim organisers who have tried to procure some rights and entitlements for these displaced survivors have found themselves the targets of threat and harassment by the local police.

6. Far from admitting that the inmates were in fact ‘internally displaced persons’, the authorities argued that they have chosen to willingly remain in the camps even after some of their family members had returned to their original habitation where they continued to live and ply their trades in absolute security. The NCM team found such reasoning to be erroneous. It noted that the residents of these colonies fear to return to the places they had fled partly because they have nothing left back home to return to and partly because many of them are eyewitnesses to murders, arson and looting during the communal violence.

Recommendations

The NCM would like to make three sets of recommendations to the state government and central government to improve the lot of residents of the makeshift camps: (1) Basic amenities and livelihood issues; (2) Central government economic package; (3) National policies on rehabilitation of internally displaced due to violence.

1. Basic amenities and livelihood in the rehabilitation colonies

Basic amenities must be provided in the camps of displaced victims. These would cover provision of safe drinking water, street lights, approach roads, etc. This should be done by the state government.

The government of India should agree that for a period of five years or until they continue to live in camps, whichever is earlier, all the inhabitants of such camps should be given BPL ration cards without going through the formalities laid down by the government for the issue of such cards. Similarly, widows should be allowed to claim their pension even if they have not applied within two years or even if they have sons above the age of 18.

The state government should prepare a special economic package for those displaced by the violence with a special focus on livelihood issues. For the self-employed, special efforts should be made to provide inputs like easy credit, raw material and marketing assistance. We strongly believe that this is a vital element in the rehabilitation scenario and that for it to be successfully implemented NGOs should be involved in it.

Wherever possible the state should take advantage of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme to cover able-bodied people in these camps and give them employment.

The government of India should return the amount of Rs 19.10 crore given back by the government of Gujarat. The state government should be asked to cover more beneficiaries under the schemes in an attempt to utilise the entire sum.

There should be a monitoring committee, consisting of representatives of the state government and civil society, which will be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the schemes described above are properly implemented.

2. A special economic package for rehabilitation of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat

There is an urgent need for the central government to design and implement an immediate special economic package for the rehabilitation of internally displaced Muslim families in Gujarat. The package must include a set of inputs that would address the totality of livelihood concerns. In particular, attention must be paid to the availability of credit, raw material and marketing support, where necessary, with the help of NGOs.

3. A national policy on internal displacement due to violence

There is a need to design a national policy on internal displacement due to violence. Populations displaced due to sectarian, ethnic or communal violence should not be left to suffer for years together due to the lack of a policy and a justiciable framework for entitlements.

The preamble of the new Draft National Rehabilitation Policy 2006 (NRP 2006), which incorporates recommendations made by the National Advisory Council, provides a precedent and sensitive understanding of how displacement due to any reason affects people. It describes displacement in the following terms, "…displacement of people, depriving them of their land, livelihood and shelter, restricting their access to traditional resource bases and uprooting them from their socio-cultural environment. These have traumatic psychological and socio-cultural consequences on the displaced population…" However, the NRP 2006 pertains only to planned displacement due to development imperatives. When displacement takes place due to mass violence, entailing loss of life, property, family and loved ones, and a total destruction of the fabric of the socio-economic and cultural community, then the rehabilitation of the internally displaced population calls for a new framework of understanding.

When displacement takes place under conditions of fear and under constant direct threat in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution (guaranteeing the protection of life and personal liberty), the trauma and the conditions under which survivors face the future is considerably worsened. Further, when the threat of violence is perceived to be continuing (as it currently is in the state of Gujarat), in the absence of justice, and in a situation of discrimination and exclusion, the protection of people’s constitutional rights can only be sought through a national policy which clearly lays out a non-negotiable framework of entitlements. Any national policy on internal displacement due to violence must be designed to include provisions for immediate compensation and rehabilitation. A national policy on internal displacement due to violence must further take into account the displaced populations’ aspirations to ‘return to their home’ and make provisions to facilitate the return, if it is possible under conditions of safety and security, and to restore the displaced families to their original conditions of living.

A national policy on internal displacement due to violence must also lay down specified time frames for the implementation of a rehabilitation plan, and include an effective grievances redressal and monitoring mechanism.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, For The Record 2

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Sabrang

Hungry heart

01 Jul 2007
March 19, 2007

To,
The honourable Supreme Court of India,

Subject: Non-implementation of food schemes in the relief colonies of people displaced in Gujarat by the disturbances of 2002.

The commissioners of the Supreme Court had received disturbing information about acute food and livelihood distress of people who were internally displaced by the disturbances in Gujarat. They were informed that many families continued to live in relief colonies in very difficult conditions with acute problems of food and livelihood security. It was brought to our notice that the directions of the honourable Supreme Court of India (in CWP 196/2001) on the food and employment schemes, including the ICDS, MDMS, PDS, NREGA, Antyodaya and Annapurna Yojana, NOAPS, NFBS and NMBS, were being violated.

Since we are mandated by the honourable Supreme Court to monitor all the food and employment schemes in Writ 196/2001, we subsequently wrote to the government of Gujarat requesting them to look into the matter and ensure that food schemes were implemented by the government of Gujarat as per the directions of the honourable court in Writ 196/2001.

The government of Gujarat responded back to us that there were no relief colonies of people displaced by the violence of 2002 in Gujarat.

Shortly thereafter, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) deputed three members to visit the state from October 13 to 17, 2006 and they went to 17 relief colonies. Their report is annexed in Annexure 3. They observed the difficulties that were faced by the residents of these colonies and the non-implementation of state programmes. In relation to livelihoods and food schemes, the commission made the following observations:

"The residents were frustrated by their inability to earn their own livelihood and to support themselves in the manner to which they were accustomed. Before the violence many of these people were small self-employed traders, artisans or industrialists. The violence put an end to their means of livelihood since their old clients were unwilling to use their services. The impression the team received is that very few of them were employed in service. In the new environment, they are unable to resume their earlier professions and because of this they find it difficult to survive."

They add, "NCM members examined the homes in several rehabilitation colonies and found evidence of abject poverty. With some exceptions, the houses contained little except for bedding and kitchen utensils. Despite these signs of poverty, the NCM found that many residents did not have ration cards. Even when ration cards were issued, most of the residents were given above the poverty line (APL) ration cards instead of below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards. This makes a big difference because BPL ration card holders are entitled to get food grains, cereals, kerosene and other basic consumer items at subsidised rates. Indeed, in several camps, especially in rural areas, the women without exception had just one major demand: they wanted BPL ration cards to be issued to them."

The report of the NCM clearly established that the government of Gujarat had misrepresented the situation to the commissioners of the honourable court by denying the existence of these colonies. It also established prima facie evidence of the fact that the directions of the honourable Supreme Court with regard to food and employment schemes were being violated.

My colleagues further completed a full survey of the state and found similar conditions in 81 such relief colonies across the state of Gujarat. The report of this investigation (guided by senior academic, Dr Ghanshyam Shah, and state adviser, Dr Indira Hirway) is appended in Annexure 4. It found 4,545 families comprising around 30,000 persons still living in very difficult conditions in 81 relief colonies.

The study found that none of the colonies had been set up or assisted by the state government. Only five of the 81 colonies had government or government recognised schools and only four served midday meals to the children. Only five had ICDS centres, of which four served supplementary nutrition to the children, and one to nursing and expectant mothers. Only three had PDS shops and only 725 out of 4,545 families were recognised as BPL although their intense poverty as internally displaced persons facing economic boycott was acute. People who had APL cards are reluctant to apply for a transfer of the card because they fear that this may be cancelled.

It is therefore proposed that the following steps are immediately undertaken to ensure state accountability for the food and livelihood rights of its citizens who remain internally displaced nearly five years after the 2002 incidents.

1. Contempt of court notices are issued to the chief secretary and other officials of the government of Gujarat for misrepresenting facts and furnishing incomplete and inaccurate information to the commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court.

2. All families who continue to live in relief colonies must be given Antyodaya cards as internally displaced persons who lost all their belongings, face fear and economic boycott, and are too afraid to return to their original homes.

3. Primary schools with midday meals should be opened in all 81 relief colonies immediately and in any case before the next financial year. The location of the school should be such that it is accessible not only to the residents of the camp but to the surrounding host communities, to promote integration.

4. All 81 colonies should have fully functioning ICDS centres, with the entire contingent of nutrition and health services, within two months.

5. PDS shops should be opened in all colonies where these are not available within a distance of three kilometres.

6. There should be a drive within three months to ensure that all eligible persons for NOAPS and widows pensions receive these.

7. Job cards under NREGA should be issued in all NREGA districts to all residents of relief colonies who are desirous of these.

8. The chief secretary should personally certify that all these steps have been undertaken in an affidavit to the Supreme Court within three months of the passage of the order.

Dr NC Saxena
Commissioner of the Supreme Court

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

Hungry heart

March 19, 2007

To,
The honourable Supreme Court of India,

Subject: Non-implementation of food schemes in the relief colonies of people displaced in Gujarat by the disturbances of 2002.

The commissioners of the Supreme Court had received disturbing information about acute food and livelihood distress of people who were internally displaced by the disturbances in Gujarat. They were informed that many families continued to live in relief colonies in very difficult conditions with acute problems of food and livelihood security. It was brought to our notice that the directions of the honourable Supreme Court of India (in CWP 196/2001) on the food and employment schemes, including the ICDS, MDMS, PDS, NREGA, Antyodaya and Annapurna Yojana, NOAPS, NFBS and NMBS, were being violated.

Since we are mandated by the honourable Supreme Court to monitor all the food and employment schemes in Writ 196/2001, we subsequently wrote to the government of Gujarat requesting them to look into the matter and ensure that food schemes were implemented by the government of Gujarat as per the directions of the honourable court in Writ 196/2001.

The government of Gujarat responded back to us that there were no relief colonies of people displaced by the violence of 2002 in Gujarat.

Shortly thereafter, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) deputed three members to visit the state from October 13 to 17, 2006 and they went to 17 relief colonies. Their report is annexed in Annexure 3. They observed the difficulties that were faced by the residents of these colonies and the non-implementation of state programmes. In relation to livelihoods and food schemes, the commission made the following observations:

"The residents were frustrated by their inability to earn their own livelihood and to support themselves in the manner to which they were accustomed. Before the violence many of these people were small self-employed traders, artisans or industrialists. The violence put an end to their means of livelihood since their old clients were unwilling to use their services. The impression the team received is that very few of them were employed in service. In the new environment, they are unable to resume their earlier professions and because of this they find it difficult to survive."

They add, "NCM members examined the homes in several rehabilitation colonies and found evidence of abject poverty. With some exceptions, the houses contained little except for bedding and kitchen utensils. Despite these signs of poverty, the NCM found that many residents did not have ration cards. Even when ration cards were issued, most of the residents were given above the poverty line (APL) ration cards instead of below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards. This makes a big difference because BPL ration card holders are entitled to get food grains, cereals, kerosene and other basic consumer items at subsidised rates. Indeed, in several camps, especially in rural areas, the women without exception had just one major demand: they wanted BPL ration cards to be issued to them."

The report of the NCM clearly established that the government of Gujarat had misrepresented the situation to the commissioners of the honourable court by denying the existence of these colonies. It also established prima facie evidence of the fact that the directions of the honourable Supreme Court with regard to food and employment schemes were being violated.

My colleagues further completed a full survey of the state and found similar conditions in 81 such relief colonies across the state of Gujarat. The report of this investigation (guided by senior academic, Dr Ghanshyam Shah, and state adviser, Dr Indira Hirway) is appended in Annexure 4. It found 4,545 families comprising around 30,000 persons still living in very difficult conditions in 81 relief colonies.

The study found that none of the colonies had been set up or assisted by the state government. Only five of the 81 colonies had government or government recognised schools and only four served midday meals to the children. Only five had ICDS centres, of which four served supplementary nutrition to the children, and one to nursing and expectant mothers. Only three had PDS shops and only 725 out of 4,545 families were recognised as BPL although their intense poverty as internally displaced persons facing economic boycott was acute. People who had APL cards are reluctant to apply for a transfer of the card because they fear that this may be cancelled.

It is therefore proposed that the following steps are immediately undertaken to ensure state accountability for the food and livelihood rights of its citizens who remain internally displaced nearly five years after the 2002 incidents.

1. Contempt of court notices are issued to the chief secretary and other officials of the government of Gujarat for misrepresenting facts and furnishing incomplete and inaccurate information to the commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court.

2. All families who continue to live in relief colonies must be given Antyodaya cards as internally displaced persons who lost all their belongings, face fear and economic boycott, and are too afraid to return to their original homes.

3. Primary schools with midday meals should be opened in all 81 relief colonies immediately and in any case before the next financial year. The location of the school should be such that it is accessible not only to the residents of the camp but to the surrounding host communities, to promote integration.

4. All 81 colonies should have fully functioning ICDS centres, with the entire contingent of nutrition and health services, within two months.

5. PDS shops should be opened in all colonies where these are not available within a distance of three kilometres.

6. There should be a drive within three months to ensure that all eligible persons for NOAPS and widows pensions receive these.

7. Job cards under NREGA should be issued in all NREGA districts to all residents of relief colonies who are desirous of these.

8. The chief secretary should personally certify that all these steps have been undertaken in an affidavit to the Supreme Court within three months of the passage of the order.

Dr NC Saxena
Commissioner of the Supreme Court

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

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Sabrang

Modi and Mahabharata

01 Jul 2007

Narendra Modi: Bloodthirst
 
The term society envisages collective community living of human beings. The origin of society preceded the emergence of the state and its limbs of legislature, executive and judiciary. It was to actualise the aspirations of society that the state was created.

Society is defined in the Random House Dictionary of English Language as "a highly structured system of human organisation for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security and a national identity". The state’s emergence ended the prevalent jungle law, or matsya nyaya, of the strong dominating the weak. The state endeavours for the creation and maintenance of secure conditions for community living that enables each person in society to be at his best self for the benefit of all.

India’s democratic polity, constituted and sustained by the Constitution, seeks to concretise the vision of Indian citizens – we the people – as expressed in the Preamble. Jurists unanimously confirm that the concepts of sovereignty, national integrity, democracy, socialism and secularism embody the unalterable basic foundations of the Constitution. Ultimately, individual citizens, as members of Indian society, are the custodians of these statutorily designed imperatives for the health and vibrancy of the nation.

A government assuming power on electoral mandate has no legal, political or moral sanction to violate, subvert or alter the intrinsic and elementary constitutional principles that encapsulate the quintessential and long cherished values of Indian people. Society, being the reservoir of voters, has to be ever vigilant to check and contain deviations, aberrations and violations from the laid down framework by organs of the government intoxicated with power obtained through the ballot box or otherwise.

An alert and agile society performs its role of watchdog through an array of institutions, formal or amorphous, traditional or ad hoc, long-standing or temporary. Societal response, often diverse or even confrontationist to governmental action or events, expresses itself through identities like media, NGOs, conscious citizens’ forums, bodies of class, region, gender, professionals, caste, etc.

A performing and lively democracy needs the services of the upright bureaucrat, the social activist, the bold dissenter, the courageous media person, and so on. Such persons often play the role of the protester and the whistle-blower with a loftier vision than the self-contained power hungry politician successfully manipulating sentiments of short-sighted voters.

The response of segments of Gujarat society to the Godhra incident and the subsequent universally condemned anti-minority violence falls into three distinct patterns in tune with their real or contrived vested interests and spheres of influence.

The protracted Gujarat riots in 2002 are comparable to the disrobing of Maharani Draupadi at the very altar of justice viz. the royal courts of the Kauravas, meant for the redressal of subjects’ grievances and the delivery of justice. Here, the holy maiden of the rule of law, the dearest daughter of the Constitution of India, has undergone and is still suffering prolonged molestation since 2002, as hundreds of citizens became prey to the depredations of armed mobs and subsequently have been experiencing near total apathy from organs of the criminal justice system.

The much published pictures of a “Vibrant Gujarat” and the reality of thousands of its citizens dwelling in pathetic conditions are as sickening as they are contradictory. Do these images paint pictures of stagnancy and destabilisation or that of dynamic advancement?

A faint silver living to the cloud of abnormal societal callousness is visible in the sterling performance by a handful of bureaucrats (all of them had to face and continue to face the wrath of the powers that be), the media (particularly the English press) and a few courageous social activists and lawyers. Referring to these well meaning champions of humanism and sanity, Prof Shiv Vishvanathan, in his essay titled "The Wages of Dissent", (Seminar, Monthly, January 2007) observed, "Each through his/her performance transformed Modi’s regime into a mosaic of unsettled and unsettling questions. Each of these encounters with a Zahira Shaikh, Teesta Setalvad, Cedric Prakash, Mukul Sinha, was stark, public and commanded huge audiences."

Next, one can find another category of people from the bureaucracy, police, professionals, etc, who ignored the call of their conscience and duty and acted like Duryodhana and his cohorts, who though aware of righteousness did not remain sincere to it. Instead, they pursued evil despite full knowledge of its consequence – "Gnanami Dharmam na cha me Pravruthi, Gnanami Adharmam na cha me Nivruthi" ("I was aware of righteousness but did nothing in pursuit of it; I knew about evil, still did not abstain from it"). They facilitated the masterly manipulation of public opinion and generation of apathy by the powers that be towards riot victims among the bulk of the electorate for achieving political mobilisation of the majority community and consequential electoral dividends in the 2002 assembly polls.

A third group of citizens took the posture of Maharathis like Bhishma, Draunacharya, Kulguru Krupacharya, Vidura, etc. They allowed the disrobing of Draupadi lest their judicious intervention result in the loss of their position, chairs and aristocratic privileges. The ongoing sacrilegious insensitivity and criminal negligence to the just and minimum needs of the riot affected is the net outcome of such an attitude.

The 2002 riots have many disquieting unparalleled and unprecedented features:
  • A seemingly well-planned strategy and ground level tactics were set in motion after the gruesome, inhuman Godhra train fire incident, to incite communal sentiments among those belonging to the majority community with the obvious intention of political mobilisation and electoral advantage. This was achieved through rumours and motivated media projections about the non-existent current atrocities on the majority community, whisper campaigns through word of mouth and the circulation of handbills and pamphlets. To illustrate, the story of breasts of Hindu women being cut and thrown, temple desecration by descendants of Aurangzeb, etc. (No police or governmental action has been taken against the perpetrators of these falsehoods so far.)
  • Non-initiation of statutorily stipulated measures contained in the Riot Schemes and particularly in the 1997 order of the then director general of police, KV Joseph. Titled, "Instructions to deal with Communal Riots (Strategy and Approach)", it was circulated to all superintendents and commissioners of police. These measures should have been promptly taken from the afternoon of February 27, 2002 onwards. To illustrate, there was no arrest of those figuring in police records as persons to be taken into custody in the event of any communal tension.
  • Parading of the dead bodies of Godhra fire victims, including those unidentified and even those belonging to places outside Ahmedabad, through communally sensitive areas of Ahmedabad city, resulting in the ignition of high voltage hatred against the minority community.
  • There were media reports that no effective action was initiated by the authorities in the early hours of the bandh day, February 28, 2002, when miscreants started indulging in petty crimes like burning of tyres on the roads, forcible closure of shops, etc, largely to test the mood and approach of the police. Hence the slogan: "Yeh andar ki baat hai, Police hamare saath hai" ("The inside story is, The police are with us in this").
  • The 2002 Gujarat violence was assailed by national leaders of all political dispensations, including the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
  • Delay in the imposition of curfew in certain sensitive areas and slackness in the enforcement of curfew resulted in crowds committing wanton crimes against minorities. For example, the Best Bakery in Vadodara was burnt during curfew hours.
  • No videography of the riots was recorded by the authorities despite regulations to this effect. It is ironical that the electronic media could easily record and telecast the riots while the authorities could not collect evidence through electronic gadgets.
  • Prime Minister Vajpayee, in a public speech in Gujarat, directed the state government to perform its assigned duties – Raj Dharma. Never before in the history of independent India has the country’s prime minister been forced to issue such public instructions to any state government.
  • The response to complaints by riot victims was deplorably irresponsible and often even hostile. This stratagem of functionaries of the criminal justice system manifested itself in the form of:

a. Refusal to register cases by riot victims against supporters of communal organisations.

b. Minimisation of intensity of offences.

c. Treating different offences as single transactions.

d. Refusal to take the accused on remand for recovery of looted property.

e. Not opposing, effectively, the bail applications of the accused persons.

f. Appointments of even office bearers of communal organisations as public prosecutors, etc.

It is relevant to note that these major lapses and such motivated dereliction of legally entrusted duties by the bureaucracy prompted the Supreme Court of India to pass severe strictures against state government officials in the Best Bakery case and other related litigations. Secondly, the apex court ordered the reinvestigation of two riot related cases and their trial was transferred to Maharashtra. Thirdly, in a rare move, the Supreme Court ordered the reopening and reinvestigation of around 2,000 Gujarat riot cases, which the police had already closed. Fourthly, many petitions of the riot victims, such as the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases, are still before the courts.

It should be noted that there were no such instances of a loss of confidence in the state administration system expressed through litigations after the 1969 and 1984 riots in Gujarat.

Nearly 1,000 localities, from rural and urban areas, were affected by communal clashes in 2002. Survivors/victims from most of these places were forced to migrate and stay in relief camps. Nearly all those migrants lost their movable and immovable properties. Almost 1,20,000 people had to dwell in congested relief camps in subhuman conditions for over six to eight months – refugees in one’s own motherland.

The bulk of the floating population from other states, people belonging to the minority community, had left the state during the riots. There is no reliable data on them. Similarly, no clear information is forthcoming on the number of missing persons.

On June 6, 2007, The Times of India, quoting a source from the Supreme Court, reported that even today about 30,000 refugees are forced to live in despicable conditions.

The much published pictures of a "Vibrant Gujarat" and the reality of thousands of its citizens dwelling in pathetic conditions are as sickening as they are contradictory. Do these images paint pictures of stagnancy and destabilisation or that of dynamic advancement?

Citizens of Gujarat must ask themselves why the recreation of the pre-riot atmosphere, ensuring smooth intercommunity living, is being blocked in the state. Is it due to a lack of resources or, in fact, the absence of political will and commitment to cater to the basic needs of the victims?

What civil society can do

Social groups, educational institutions, religious bodies, NGOs, conscious citizens and others can easily take up the issues impeding normalisation of the situation in nearly 1,000 localities affected by communal violence. A lot needs to be done to ensure the security of victims and the restoration of their vocations and professions to achieve durable rehabilitation. Restoration of immovable property to legal owners, resuscitation of trade and business, adequate provisions for empowerment of orphans and widows, creation of educational facilities, and so on.

Secondly, the reconstruction of major shrines and monuments destroyed or damaged during the violence, such as the tomb of Wali Gujarati, is long pending.

Communalists engage in a relentless indoctrination drive. Pseudo-religious organisations inculcate exclusivism and sectarianism in the minds of their followers. The afflicted then spring into violent action against their "rival community" on any trivial issue. After all, for a communalist, "their God is our Devil".

Special efforts to stress that humanism and meditative spiritualism constitute the core values and soul of all religions are the need of the times. Otherwise, unscrupulous politicians, bent on securing power at any cost, will continue to adopt competitive communalism as a means and vehicle to advance their political careers.

At special gatherings, in educational institutions and religious congregations, programmes need to be started to stress religious tolerance. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi, the famous study on religions by Bharat Ratna, Bhagavan Das, titled Essential Unity of All Religions, lectures by Swami Ranganathananda, etc, can all be used as source material. This project can be called Sarva Dharma Mool Adarsh Prachar (Understanding the Tenets of All Religions).

Programmes must be planned for the joint celebration of different religious festivals through participation by all in processions, congregations. These could be called Sarva Dharma Utsav (Festival of All Religions).

At the grass root level, in villages and in urban localities, visits could be arranged to familiarise people with each other’s religious shrines in the neighbourhood. For example, school students of an area could be encouraged to visit and study the significance – scriptural, spiritual, architectural – of a local shrine. This can be called Sarva Dharma Pavitra Sthan Darshan (Pilgrimage of All Religions).

Godless atheistic secularism alone cannot effectively counter the rising tide of communalism in the country.

Well-planned projects need to be designed and implemented so as to enhance intercommunity cooperation in all dimensions of human activity – economic, cultural, religious and social.

An ancient Sanskrit text, Nitisara, classifies all human beings into two categories: wise men and fools. Wise men are those who spend their leisure time in the study of science and the appreciation of arts and literature. Fools, on the other hand, utilise their free hours for pursuit of addictions, quarrels and sleep.

"Kavya sastravinodana
Kala Gacchati Dheematam
Vyasanana cha Moorkhanam
Nidraya Kalahena cha
."

(Poetic compositions and shastras do serve,
As recreations for the wise to pass their time
The foolish ones spend their time in vices diverse
In idle sleep or in quarrels.)

Ramakrishna Paramahans once compared a person engaged in communal fights to a dog trapped in a hall of mirrors. The dog will bark to death at his own image reflected in each mirror. The Vedantic principle of each person being a fragment of the same universal divinity – God – is the moral of Ramakrishna’s parable, an elucidation of the vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the entire world is a family) principle.

A short story by Krishan Chander titled A Donkey’s Autobiography (Ek Gadhe ki Sarguzasht) describes a donkey telling a group of Hindu and Muslim communalists who asked him to specify his religion that, born as a donkey, he is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, he is just a donkey. Let us learn from this donkey. 

(Text of a speech delivered by RB Sreekumar at a recent meeting of Nishan-e-Samvidhan, an Ahmedabad based citizens’ group.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, Voices 3

Modi and Mahabharata


Narendra Modi: Bloodthirst
 
The term society envisages collective community living of human beings. The origin of society preceded the emergence of the state and its limbs of legislature, executive and judiciary. It was to actualise the aspirations of society that the state was created.

Society is defined in the Random House Dictionary of English Language as "a highly structured system of human organisation for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security and a national identity". The state’s emergence ended the prevalent jungle law, or matsya nyaya, of the strong dominating the weak. The state endeavours for the creation and maintenance of secure conditions for community living that enables each person in society to be at his best self for the benefit of all.

India’s democratic polity, constituted and sustained by the Constitution, seeks to concretise the vision of Indian citizens – we the people – as expressed in the Preamble. Jurists unanimously confirm that the concepts of sovereignty, national integrity, democracy, socialism and secularism embody the unalterable basic foundations of the Constitution. Ultimately, individual citizens, as members of Indian society, are the custodians of these statutorily designed imperatives for the health and vibrancy of the nation.

A government assuming power on electoral mandate has no legal, political or moral sanction to violate, subvert or alter the intrinsic and elementary constitutional principles that encapsulate the quintessential and long cherished values of Indian people. Society, being the reservoir of voters, has to be ever vigilant to check and contain deviations, aberrations and violations from the laid down framework by organs of the government intoxicated with power obtained through the ballot box or otherwise.

An alert and agile society performs its role of watchdog through an array of institutions, formal or amorphous, traditional or ad hoc, long-standing or temporary. Societal response, often diverse or even confrontationist to governmental action or events, expresses itself through identities like media, NGOs, conscious citizens’ forums, bodies of class, region, gender, professionals, caste, etc.

A performing and lively democracy needs the services of the upright bureaucrat, the social activist, the bold dissenter, the courageous media person, and so on. Such persons often play the role of the protester and the whistle-blower with a loftier vision than the self-contained power hungry politician successfully manipulating sentiments of short-sighted voters.

The response of segments of Gujarat society to the Godhra incident and the subsequent universally condemned anti-minority violence falls into three distinct patterns in tune with their real or contrived vested interests and spheres of influence.

The protracted Gujarat riots in 2002 are comparable to the disrobing of Maharani Draupadi at the very altar of justice viz. the royal courts of the Kauravas, meant for the redressal of subjects’ grievances and the delivery of justice. Here, the holy maiden of the rule of law, the dearest daughter of the Constitution of India, has undergone and is still suffering prolonged molestation since 2002, as hundreds of citizens became prey to the depredations of armed mobs and subsequently have been experiencing near total apathy from organs of the criminal justice system.

The much published pictures of a “Vibrant Gujarat” and the reality of thousands of its citizens dwelling in pathetic conditions are as sickening as they are contradictory. Do these images paint pictures of stagnancy and destabilisation or that of dynamic advancement?

A faint silver living to the cloud of abnormal societal callousness is visible in the sterling performance by a handful of bureaucrats (all of them had to face and continue to face the wrath of the powers that be), the media (particularly the English press) and a few courageous social activists and lawyers. Referring to these well meaning champions of humanism and sanity, Prof Shiv Vishvanathan, in his essay titled "The Wages of Dissent", (Seminar, Monthly, January 2007) observed, "Each through his/her performance transformed Modi’s regime into a mosaic of unsettled and unsettling questions. Each of these encounters with a Zahira Shaikh, Teesta Setalvad, Cedric Prakash, Mukul Sinha, was stark, public and commanded huge audiences."

Next, one can find another category of people from the bureaucracy, police, professionals, etc, who ignored the call of their conscience and duty and acted like Duryodhana and his cohorts, who though aware of righteousness did not remain sincere to it. Instead, they pursued evil despite full knowledge of its consequence – "Gnanami Dharmam na cha me Pravruthi, Gnanami Adharmam na cha me Nivruthi" ("I was aware of righteousness but did nothing in pursuit of it; I knew about evil, still did not abstain from it"). They facilitated the masterly manipulation of public opinion and generation of apathy by the powers that be towards riot victims among the bulk of the electorate for achieving political mobilisation of the majority community and consequential electoral dividends in the 2002 assembly polls.

A third group of citizens took the posture of Maharathis like Bhishma, Draunacharya, Kulguru Krupacharya, Vidura, etc. They allowed the disrobing of Draupadi lest their judicious intervention result in the loss of their position, chairs and aristocratic privileges. The ongoing sacrilegious insensitivity and criminal negligence to the just and minimum needs of the riot affected is the net outcome of such an attitude.

The 2002 riots have many disquieting unparalleled and unprecedented features:
  • A seemingly well-planned strategy and ground level tactics were set in motion after the gruesome, inhuman Godhra train fire incident, to incite communal sentiments among those belonging to the majority community with the obvious intention of political mobilisation and electoral advantage. This was achieved through rumours and motivated media projections about the non-existent current atrocities on the majority community, whisper campaigns through word of mouth and the circulation of handbills and pamphlets. To illustrate, the story of breasts of Hindu women being cut and thrown, temple desecration by descendants of Aurangzeb, etc. (No police or governmental action has been taken against the perpetrators of these falsehoods so far.)
  • Non-initiation of statutorily stipulated measures contained in the Riot Schemes and particularly in the 1997 order of the then director general of police, KV Joseph. Titled, "Instructions to deal with Communal Riots (Strategy and Approach)", it was circulated to all superintendents and commissioners of police. These measures should have been promptly taken from the afternoon of February 27, 2002 onwards. To illustrate, there was no arrest of those figuring in police records as persons to be taken into custody in the event of any communal tension.
  • Parading of the dead bodies of Godhra fire victims, including those unidentified and even those belonging to places outside Ahmedabad, through communally sensitive areas of Ahmedabad city, resulting in the ignition of high voltage hatred against the minority community.
  • There were media reports that no effective action was initiated by the authorities in the early hours of the bandh day, February 28, 2002, when miscreants started indulging in petty crimes like burning of tyres on the roads, forcible closure of shops, etc, largely to test the mood and approach of the police. Hence the slogan: "Yeh andar ki baat hai, Police hamare saath hai" ("The inside story is, The police are with us in this").
  • The 2002 Gujarat violence was assailed by national leaders of all political dispensations, including the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
  • Delay in the imposition of curfew in certain sensitive areas and slackness in the enforcement of curfew resulted in crowds committing wanton crimes against minorities. For example, the Best Bakery in Vadodara was burnt during curfew hours.
  • No videography of the riots was recorded by the authorities despite regulations to this effect. It is ironical that the electronic media could easily record and telecast the riots while the authorities could not collect evidence through electronic gadgets.
  • Prime Minister Vajpayee, in a public speech in Gujarat, directed the state government to perform its assigned duties – Raj Dharma. Never before in the history of independent India has the country’s prime minister been forced to issue such public instructions to any state government.
  • The response to complaints by riot victims was deplorably irresponsible and often even hostile. This stratagem of functionaries of the criminal justice system manifested itself in the form of:

a. Refusal to register cases by riot victims against supporters of communal organisations.

b. Minimisation of intensity of offences.

c. Treating different offences as single transactions.

d. Refusal to take the accused on remand for recovery of looted property.

e. Not opposing, effectively, the bail applications of the accused persons.

f. Appointments of even office bearers of communal organisations as public prosecutors, etc.

It is relevant to note that these major lapses and such motivated dereliction of legally entrusted duties by the bureaucracy prompted the Supreme Court of India to pass severe strictures against state government officials in the Best Bakery case and other related litigations. Secondly, the apex court ordered the reinvestigation of two riot related cases and their trial was transferred to Maharashtra. Thirdly, in a rare move, the Supreme Court ordered the reopening and reinvestigation of around 2,000 Gujarat riot cases, which the police had already closed. Fourthly, many petitions of the riot victims, such as the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases, are still before the courts.

It should be noted that there were no such instances of a loss of confidence in the state administration system expressed through litigations after the 1969 and 1984 riots in Gujarat.

Nearly 1,000 localities, from rural and urban areas, were affected by communal clashes in 2002. Survivors/victims from most of these places were forced to migrate and stay in relief camps. Nearly all those migrants lost their movable and immovable properties. Almost 1,20,000 people had to dwell in congested relief camps in subhuman conditions for over six to eight months – refugees in one’s own motherland.

The bulk of the floating population from other states, people belonging to the minority community, had left the state during the riots. There is no reliable data on them. Similarly, no clear information is forthcoming on the number of missing persons.

On June 6, 2007, The Times of India, quoting a source from the Supreme Court, reported that even today about 30,000 refugees are forced to live in despicable conditions.

The much published pictures of a "Vibrant Gujarat" and the reality of thousands of its citizens dwelling in pathetic conditions are as sickening as they are contradictory. Do these images paint pictures of stagnancy and destabilisation or that of dynamic advancement?

Citizens of Gujarat must ask themselves why the recreation of the pre-riot atmosphere, ensuring smooth intercommunity living, is being blocked in the state. Is it due to a lack of resources or, in fact, the absence of political will and commitment to cater to the basic needs of the victims?

What civil society can do

Social groups, educational institutions, religious bodies, NGOs, conscious citizens and others can easily take up the issues impeding normalisation of the situation in nearly 1,000 localities affected by communal violence. A lot needs to be done to ensure the security of victims and the restoration of their vocations and professions to achieve durable rehabilitation. Restoration of immovable property to legal owners, resuscitation of trade and business, adequate provisions for empowerment of orphans and widows, creation of educational facilities, and so on.

Secondly, the reconstruction of major shrines and monuments destroyed or damaged during the violence, such as the tomb of Wali Gujarati, is long pending.

Communalists engage in a relentless indoctrination drive. Pseudo-religious organisations inculcate exclusivism and sectarianism in the minds of their followers. The afflicted then spring into violent action against their "rival community" on any trivial issue. After all, for a communalist, "their God is our Devil".

Special efforts to stress that humanism and meditative spiritualism constitute the core values and soul of all religions are the need of the times. Otherwise, unscrupulous politicians, bent on securing power at any cost, will continue to adopt competitive communalism as a means and vehicle to advance their political careers.

At special gatherings, in educational institutions and religious congregations, programmes need to be started to stress religious tolerance. The writings of Mahatma Gandhi, the famous study on religions by Bharat Ratna, Bhagavan Das, titled Essential Unity of All Religions, lectures by Swami Ranganathananda, etc, can all be used as source material. This project can be called Sarva Dharma Mool Adarsh Prachar (Understanding the Tenets of All Religions).

Programmes must be planned for the joint celebration of different religious festivals through participation by all in processions, congregations. These could be called Sarva Dharma Utsav (Festival of All Religions).

At the grass root level, in villages and in urban localities, visits could be arranged to familiarise people with each other’s religious shrines in the neighbourhood. For example, school students of an area could be encouraged to visit and study the significance – scriptural, spiritual, architectural – of a local shrine. This can be called Sarva Dharma Pavitra Sthan Darshan (Pilgrimage of All Religions).

Godless atheistic secularism alone cannot effectively counter the rising tide of communalism in the country.

Well-planned projects need to be designed and implemented so as to enhance intercommunity cooperation in all dimensions of human activity – economic, cultural, religious and social.

An ancient Sanskrit text, Nitisara, classifies all human beings into two categories: wise men and fools. Wise men are those who spend their leisure time in the study of science and the appreciation of arts and literature. Fools, on the other hand, utilise their free hours for pursuit of addictions, quarrels and sleep.

"Kavya sastravinodana
Kala Gacchati Dheematam
Vyasanana cha Moorkhanam
Nidraya Kalahena cha
."

(Poetic compositions and shastras do serve,
As recreations for the wise to pass their time
The foolish ones spend their time in vices diverse
In idle sleep or in quarrels.)

Ramakrishna Paramahans once compared a person engaged in communal fights to a dog trapped in a hall of mirrors. The dog will bark to death at his own image reflected in each mirror. The Vedantic principle of each person being a fragment of the same universal divinity – God – is the moral of Ramakrishna’s parable, an elucidation of the vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the entire world is a family) principle.

A short story by Krishan Chander titled A Donkey’s Autobiography (Ek Gadhe ki Sarguzasht) describes a donkey telling a group of Hindu and Muslim communalists who asked him to specify his religion that, born as a donkey, he is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, he is just a donkey. Let us learn from this donkey. 

(Text of a speech delivered by RB Sreekumar at a recent meeting of Nishan-e-Samvidhan, an Ahmedabad based citizens’ group.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, Voices 3

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Sabrang

The fight continues

01 Jul 2007


I actually believed that after the first flush of activity things would pack up. So there was a great sense of satisfaction when as an advocate I experienced, in matter after matter, legal action groups like Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) persisting with their work even today. Even after such a long time and with many ups and downs, especially for social activists, the fight continues.

I would particularly like to mention that CJP has looked after countless victims and witnesses all over the state and undertaken legal interventions in scores of cases. And it has been there right from the start. It was in March 2002 that CJP began its legal interventions, first with its writ petition on behalf of the relief camps running in the city and state. Thereafter it has intervened in dozens of matters related to the victims and complaints of the mass carnage. There were also compensation claim cases, hate speech cases and many others.

The relief camp matter came up before the court in April 2002. The petition sought basic amenities from the state for the hapless residents of relief camps who were internally displaced refugees and to whom the state had turned a deaf ear. (Relief camps in Gujarat were all run privately by individuals and groups belonging to the Muslim community. The state of Gujarat did not operate a single relief camp for victims of the genocidal violence.)

The court made a verbal request to the public prosecutor (PP), state of Gujarat, asking him to agree to make a voluntary statement increasing the per day expenses for each resident (from Rs six to Rs eight) and improving the water supply, the provision for bathrooms and so on. The atmosphere in court was especially hostile at the time. Almost every lawyer present in court was hoping, willing the court to simply dismiss the petition. On the other hand, those representing the relief camps – senior counsel, Aspi Chinoy from Mumbai, and I – expected the court to issue firm orders and directions rather than to "request the state government to agree to oblige the poor displaced victims" by giving them the basic amenities that are their due as citizens of this country.

There was immense pressure on all of us as a team. As I stood in the courtroom, and as relief camp managers and the CJP secretary (Teesta Setalvad) arrived, the place filled up not just with lawyers but also intimidatory crowds. In the Gujarat High Court sick notes from all lawyers are generally accepted as a matter of course and without much ado. On one occasion during the hearing, I was quite unwell – a result, I believe, of the constant tension, the pressures of work and the many sleepless nights. I was running a high fever and had no option but to file a sick note. So on the day the matter was to be heard I sent my junior, Anil Verma, to the court, requesting an adjournment. The court responded angrily (a sharp contrast to its amenability and courtesy towards the state of Gujarat) and passed an order stating that all petitioners would thereafter have to remain personally present in court each time the matter was to be heard. Now, the relief camp managers were also performing a sterling service for the community, providing food, water and shelter to victims while the whole of Gujarat was burning. But thanks to the court’s attitude, the relief camp managers had to interrupt their activities and be personally present in court. In the end the state was "obliged" to provide more bathrooms, toilets and quality food to the riot victims.

Another case that stands out was the one related to an incident in Abasana in rural Ahmedabad where six members belonging to the Muslim minority had been killed – an offence registered at the Daithroj police station. Three of the accused had approached the high court for bail. I appeared on behalf of the complainant and filed an affidavit by the complainant witness narrating the role of each of the accused. Some of the accused had used a sharp metal weapon (dhariya) to cause injuries to a victim, an injury that resulted in a fracture of the skull. The deceased victim was then thrown into a fire by other accused. In the post-mortem notes, the cause of death was shown as ‘burning’ although column 17 of the post-mortem report did indicate a fracture to the skull of the deceased victim.

I had opposed bail for these accused as well. However, the defence lawyer argued for bail for the accused persons who had brutally assaulted the deceased on the grounds that the skull fracture was not the cause of death. I then requested a stay on the order granting bail for four weeks so that we could approach the Supreme Court. The court referred the question to the PP (in itself a highly questionable practice) whereupon the PP advised the court that the order should not be stayed and thus my request for a stay was denied. The court then asked me if any conditions needed to be imposed on the accused. I stated that the order should constrain the accused into staying outside rural Ahmedabad until the trial was over. Once again the court referred to the PP who refused to accept these conditions saying that all the accused persons should not have to suffer such hardship. Ultimately, all the accused were constrained into staying outside Abasana for four to six months.

In its judgement the high court also recorded that it was the complainant who had not insisted on a reasoned order (one that provided a detailed explanation of the rationale behind its decision). However, while hearing the complainant’s case for cancellation of bail, the Supreme Court took the view that the high court must record a detailed reasoned order. Following the Supreme Court judgement, the high court should have cancelled the bail granted to the accused. However, due to the long time lag, bail was not cancelled. For a substantial period of time during which the trial was being heard, the accused roamed free. It appears that during this time the witnesses had been won over by the accused persons who were allowed out on bail and they had then turned hostile. The delay in the trial forced them to bow to the influence of the accused.

There is another case related to 2002 that has been pending since December 16 that year. The petitioner, Abdul Hakim Khan, had filed a complaint at the Satellite police station, Ahmedabad, seeking registration of offences against the newspaper, Sandesh, under sections 153 A and 153 B of the IPC for publishing false and provocative reports on February 28 and March 1, 2002. The reports in question were extremely inflammatory and the police should themselves have registered a complaint against the newspaper concerned. Since the police did not, a private complaint was filed under Section 200 of the CrPC. The magistrate concerned dismissed the private complaint on the grounds that state government sanction was necessary for permission to prosecute. So the complainant applied to the state government seeking such sanction. As expected, the state government did not heed the representation and ultimately the complainant had to file a petition in the Gujarat High Court on December 16, 2002 when the petition was admitted and posted for "final hearing without any returnable date". Five years have passed and so far the matter has not been heard. It is still pending before the court and I am not sure when or if it will ever be heard. If, say, the matter were heard in 2008 or 2009, this would be six or eight years after the offence was committed. Where would the trial be then?

The relief camp matter came up before the court in April 2002. The atmosphere in court was especially hostile at the time. Almost every lawyer present in court was hoping, willing the court to simply dismiss the petition

Another case filed by a victim, Abdul Rasool D. Aljuwalla, in 2002 sought directions from the high court to allow all six co-petitioners possession of their shops. The petitioners all had shops in Raigad village, Sabarkantha district. They had been dispossessed of these on February 28, 2002. Like others in Raigad, they were forced to leave their village and could not go back because of the ongoing violence. When they did attempt to return about 10-15 days later, they found that their landlords had taken over the shops and even looted their wares. The FIR listed offences under sections 435, 436 and 390 of the IPC for looting, dacoity and rioting. As in so many other cases, the writ petition was "admitted" and is still awaiting final hearing, five and a half years later. The landlords have already rented the shops out to other people thereby making the victims’ task, the retrieval of their shops, difficult if not impossible. As far as the trial goes, the sessions court has acquitted the accused for want of evidence. The complainants i.e. the victims filed a revision application in the matter but the high court dismissed this on the ground that a revision application had less scope, as "evidence cannot be re-appreciated". The case can now be reopened only if an appeal is filed by the state of Gujarat but this, predictably, is yet to happen.

There are also individual petitions where petitioners have sought adequate compensation from the state of Gujarat. One such petition supported by CJP was filed on March 28, 2003 by Patni Arvind and others asking for compensation from the Ahmedabad district collector. Other matters that CJP has supported include a petition filed by Abdul Hamid Abdul Inamdar on July 30, 2003 seeking compensation for victims of mass violence in Ahmedabad district and a writ petition filed by Ilyasbhai Khan Khatri on September 20, 2003, seeking compensation for loss of property. All these petitions are pending final disposal with no specified date of hearing being ordered. Given the backlog of cases, these matters will have to wait 10 years or more, testing the petitioners’ tenacity and courage. The matters all pertain to the pathetic sums of compensation (Rs 1,000-15,000) paid to victims whose losses, in fact, run into lakhs.

Another major public interest litigation (PIL) filed by CJP relates to expansion of the compensation scheme. This matter has also been repeatedly delayed by the state government (with the court’s compliance) even as petitioners and their advocates remained present and ready.

Rubina Salimbhai Ghanchi filed a petition in July 2003 asking for the appointment of a special PP in place of Arvind Pandya at the Gujarat High Court. Pandya is an advocate of some notoriety, known to be close to the chief minister, Narendra Modi, and is the state government’s counsel before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. The matter was disposed of when Pandya himself withdrew from the case in question. There were also other petitioners seeking the arrest of absconding accused in some cases that achieved limited success. It was only after the court issued notice to senior police officers that the police were forced to arrest some of the accused.

In a case filed some time in 2005 the petitioner was Zahir Bashir Shaikh whose mother was killed in reckless police firing. The petition challenged the role of the investigating and prosecuting agencies. According to the prosecution’s case in the trial, there were incidents of stone pelting whereupon the police constable opened fire and one such bullet hit the petitioner’s mother. The petitioner argued that no stones were found or recovered from the street where his mother had been killed. Shaikh alleged that the police constable deliberately fired at the Muslim house because miscreants had set fire to the policeman’s shop. After the constable got off duty he came to Shaikh’s locality and, using his private revolver, fired at Shaikh’s mother. The police tried to shield the constable by filing a false complaint stating that after five or six incidents of stone pelting, the police had no option but to fire. It was only later on (following the state of Gujarat’s own affidavit) that the petitioner learnt that the firing was a private firing, that the constable’s shop had been burnt and that he was not on duty when the firing took place. Again, the matter was admitted and has been posted for final hearing.

My most telling experience was however during the Best Bakery case appeal in December 2003. The matter was first listed before justices KR Vyas and AL Dave but the bench declined to hear the matter. We were then told that another two-member bench was assigned to the case but they also declined to hear the matter. Ultimately, the matter came up before justices BJ Sethna and JR Vohra. The witness, Sairabano (sister of key witness, Zahira Shaikh), had filed a revision petition challenging the order of acquittal (of the accused) before the high court even as the state government had to file a criminal appeal against the same acquittal under pressure from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had also passed strictures about the state of Gujarat’s lacklustre attitude towards justice. There was about a 17-day delay in filing the revision application so when the matter was finally heard, the revision application and the application for condoning the delay were heard together. The court rejected our revision application and directed me, appearing for the witness, to assist the PP in the state’s appeal.

Thereafter the appeal was heard in an extremely hostile atmosphere. The courtroom was packed with supporters of the accused and possibly none, or few, in that hostile and crowded courtroom wanted the state’s appeal to be allowed. I submitted my written arguments on behalf of the witness. The court, however, refused to accept these. I also filed an affidavit by the witness, Sairabano, and as is common procedure in the high court, this was served to the accused and the prosecution five days earlier. It was submitted through the computer at about 4.10 p.m. on December 12, 2003. I also obtained a status report recording the submitted affidavit as item 16. At the time, the appeal was still being heard on a day-to-day basis.

However, the court did not accept the witness’ affidavit and it was returned as per court directions. Entries on the computer were deleted and the status report now showed item 16 as "missing". The operative part of the judgement in the state’s appeal, confirming the acquittal, was pronounced on December 26, 2003 while the detailed judgement followed after the winter vacation on January 12, 2004. When courts reopened I was surprised to find that written arguments on behalf of the accused and those by the PP had been submitted and accepted for consideration after the court had decided on the matter. This by the same court that had rejected written arguments on behalf of the witness, Sairabano! Not only was the atmosphere fraught and hostile, these developments were deeply shocking.

Much of what took place within the courts was reflected at social functions within the legal fraternity. During this period judges were even heard commenting that some lawyers and activists were only trying to rake up old issues to keep them alive and defame Gujarat’s image in the world.

More recently, events in the court during the hearing of the Pandharwada mass graves case are worth a mention. Here we were asking for a transfer of the whole investigation to the CBI. During the course of the hearing in the high court, at one stage even counsel for the CBI made hostile remarks about the co-petitioners, CJP. There were humiliating comments from the court as well, suggesting that the petitioners’ legal interventions were motivated by personal gain.

Notwithstanding the many stumbling blocks, I still believe that if we work, as we must, with full faith and honesty, it can be a truly rewarding experience. Even so, the continuing hostility makes this a frightening exercise. There will be moments when we are disheartened. And there have been many such moments. At one stage during a crucial matter a government pleader attempted to browbeat me, saying that if I carried on like this prosecutors would be instructed to oppose me in all my regular matters as well. But I refused to give in. I have done my job with great satisfaction.

Recently we filed a petition asking that an FIR be registered against the chief minister and 62 others on charges that include criminal conspiracy, mass murder, manslaughter and intimidation (the PIL filed by Zakiya Jaffri and CJP). Some lawyers telephoned me to say that my role in the proceedings, where senior policemen and bureaucrats were also accused, was a recipe for disaster. I would be making formidable enemies.

These are but cheap threats to block the sterling work being done by organisations like CJP.

(As told to Communalism Combat.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, Voices 2

The fight continues



I actually believed that after the first flush of activity things would pack up. So there was a great sense of satisfaction when as an advocate I experienced, in matter after matter, legal action groups like Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) persisting with their work even today. Even after such a long time and with many ups and downs, especially for social activists, the fight continues.

I would particularly like to mention that CJP has looked after countless victims and witnesses all over the state and undertaken legal interventions in scores of cases. And it has been there right from the start. It was in March 2002 that CJP began its legal interventions, first with its writ petition on behalf of the relief camps running in the city and state. Thereafter it has intervened in dozens of matters related to the victims and complaints of the mass carnage. There were also compensation claim cases, hate speech cases and many others.

The relief camp matter came up before the court in April 2002. The petition sought basic amenities from the state for the hapless residents of relief camps who were internally displaced refugees and to whom the state had turned a deaf ear. (Relief camps in Gujarat were all run privately by individuals and groups belonging to the Muslim community. The state of Gujarat did not operate a single relief camp for victims of the genocidal violence.)

The court made a verbal request to the public prosecutor (PP), state of Gujarat, asking him to agree to make a voluntary statement increasing the per day expenses for each resident (from Rs six to Rs eight) and improving the water supply, the provision for bathrooms and so on. The atmosphere in court was especially hostile at the time. Almost every lawyer present in court was hoping, willing the court to simply dismiss the petition. On the other hand, those representing the relief camps – senior counsel, Aspi Chinoy from Mumbai, and I – expected the court to issue firm orders and directions rather than to "request the state government to agree to oblige the poor displaced victims" by giving them the basic amenities that are their due as citizens of this country.

There was immense pressure on all of us as a team. As I stood in the courtroom, and as relief camp managers and the CJP secretary (Teesta Setalvad) arrived, the place filled up not just with lawyers but also intimidatory crowds. In the Gujarat High Court sick notes from all lawyers are generally accepted as a matter of course and without much ado. On one occasion during the hearing, I was quite unwell – a result, I believe, of the constant tension, the pressures of work and the many sleepless nights. I was running a high fever and had no option but to file a sick note. So on the day the matter was to be heard I sent my junior, Anil Verma, to the court, requesting an adjournment. The court responded angrily (a sharp contrast to its amenability and courtesy towards the state of Gujarat) and passed an order stating that all petitioners would thereafter have to remain personally present in court each time the matter was to be heard. Now, the relief camp managers were also performing a sterling service for the community, providing food, water and shelter to victims while the whole of Gujarat was burning. But thanks to the court’s attitude, the relief camp managers had to interrupt their activities and be personally present in court. In the end the state was "obliged" to provide more bathrooms, toilets and quality food to the riot victims.

Another case that stands out was the one related to an incident in Abasana in rural Ahmedabad where six members belonging to the Muslim minority had been killed – an offence registered at the Daithroj police station. Three of the accused had approached the high court for bail. I appeared on behalf of the complainant and filed an affidavit by the complainant witness narrating the role of each of the accused. Some of the accused had used a sharp metal weapon (dhariya) to cause injuries to a victim, an injury that resulted in a fracture of the skull. The deceased victim was then thrown into a fire by other accused. In the post-mortem notes, the cause of death was shown as ‘burning’ although column 17 of the post-mortem report did indicate a fracture to the skull of the deceased victim.

I had opposed bail for these accused as well. However, the defence lawyer argued for bail for the accused persons who had brutally assaulted the deceased on the grounds that the skull fracture was not the cause of death. I then requested a stay on the order granting bail for four weeks so that we could approach the Supreme Court. The court referred the question to the PP (in itself a highly questionable practice) whereupon the PP advised the court that the order should not be stayed and thus my request for a stay was denied. The court then asked me if any conditions needed to be imposed on the accused. I stated that the order should constrain the accused into staying outside rural Ahmedabad until the trial was over. Once again the court referred to the PP who refused to accept these conditions saying that all the accused persons should not have to suffer such hardship. Ultimately, all the accused were constrained into staying outside Abasana for four to six months.

In its judgement the high court also recorded that it was the complainant who had not insisted on a reasoned order (one that provided a detailed explanation of the rationale behind its decision). However, while hearing the complainant’s case for cancellation of bail, the Supreme Court took the view that the high court must record a detailed reasoned order. Following the Supreme Court judgement, the high court should have cancelled the bail granted to the accused. However, due to the long time lag, bail was not cancelled. For a substantial period of time during which the trial was being heard, the accused roamed free. It appears that during this time the witnesses had been won over by the accused persons who were allowed out on bail and they had then turned hostile. The delay in the trial forced them to bow to the influence of the accused.

There is another case related to 2002 that has been pending since December 16 that year. The petitioner, Abdul Hakim Khan, had filed a complaint at the Satellite police station, Ahmedabad, seeking registration of offences against the newspaper, Sandesh, under sections 153 A and 153 B of the IPC for publishing false and provocative reports on February 28 and March 1, 2002. The reports in question were extremely inflammatory and the police should themselves have registered a complaint against the newspaper concerned. Since the police did not, a private complaint was filed under Section 200 of the CrPC. The magistrate concerned dismissed the private complaint on the grounds that state government sanction was necessary for permission to prosecute. So the complainant applied to the state government seeking such sanction. As expected, the state government did not heed the representation and ultimately the complainant had to file a petition in the Gujarat High Court on December 16, 2002 when the petition was admitted and posted for "final hearing without any returnable date". Five years have passed and so far the matter has not been heard. It is still pending before the court and I am not sure when or if it will ever be heard. If, say, the matter were heard in 2008 or 2009, this would be six or eight years after the offence was committed. Where would the trial be then?

The relief camp matter came up before the court in April 2002. The atmosphere in court was especially hostile at the time. Almost every lawyer present in court was hoping, willing the court to simply dismiss the petition

Another case filed by a victim, Abdul Rasool D. Aljuwalla, in 2002 sought directions from the high court to allow all six co-petitioners possession of their shops. The petitioners all had shops in Raigad village, Sabarkantha district. They had been dispossessed of these on February 28, 2002. Like others in Raigad, they were forced to leave their village and could not go back because of the ongoing violence. When they did attempt to return about 10-15 days later, they found that their landlords had taken over the shops and even looted their wares. The FIR listed offences under sections 435, 436 and 390 of the IPC for looting, dacoity and rioting. As in so many other cases, the writ petition was "admitted" and is still awaiting final hearing, five and a half years later. The landlords have already rented the shops out to other people thereby making the victims’ task, the retrieval of their shops, difficult if not impossible. As far as the trial goes, the sessions court has acquitted the accused for want of evidence. The complainants i.e. the victims filed a revision application in the matter but the high court dismissed this on the ground that a revision application had less scope, as "evidence cannot be re-appreciated". The case can now be reopened only if an appeal is filed by the state of Gujarat but this, predictably, is yet to happen.

There are also individual petitions where petitioners have sought adequate compensation from the state of Gujarat. One such petition supported by CJP was filed on March 28, 2003 by Patni Arvind and others asking for compensation from the Ahmedabad district collector. Other matters that CJP has supported include a petition filed by Abdul Hamid Abdul Inamdar on July 30, 2003 seeking compensation for victims of mass violence in Ahmedabad district and a writ petition filed by Ilyasbhai Khan Khatri on September 20, 2003, seeking compensation for loss of property. All these petitions are pending final disposal with no specified date of hearing being ordered. Given the backlog of cases, these matters will have to wait 10 years or more, testing the petitioners’ tenacity and courage. The matters all pertain to the pathetic sums of compensation (Rs 1,000-15,000) paid to victims whose losses, in fact, run into lakhs.

Another major public interest litigation (PIL) filed by CJP relates to expansion of the compensation scheme. This matter has also been repeatedly delayed by the state government (with the court’s compliance) even as petitioners and their advocates remained present and ready.

Rubina Salimbhai Ghanchi filed a petition in July 2003 asking for the appointment of a special PP in place of Arvind Pandya at the Gujarat High Court. Pandya is an advocate of some notoriety, known to be close to the chief minister, Narendra Modi, and is the state government’s counsel before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. The matter was disposed of when Pandya himself withdrew from the case in question. There were also other petitioners seeking the arrest of absconding accused in some cases that achieved limited success. It was only after the court issued notice to senior police officers that the police were forced to arrest some of the accused.

In a case filed some time in 2005 the petitioner was Zahir Bashir Shaikh whose mother was killed in reckless police firing. The petition challenged the role of the investigating and prosecuting agencies. According to the prosecution’s case in the trial, there were incidents of stone pelting whereupon the police constable opened fire and one such bullet hit the petitioner’s mother. The petitioner argued that no stones were found or recovered from the street where his mother had been killed. Shaikh alleged that the police constable deliberately fired at the Muslim house because miscreants had set fire to the policeman’s shop. After the constable got off duty he came to Shaikh’s locality and, using his private revolver, fired at Shaikh’s mother. The police tried to shield the constable by filing a false complaint stating that after five or six incidents of stone pelting, the police had no option but to fire. It was only later on (following the state of Gujarat’s own affidavit) that the petitioner learnt that the firing was a private firing, that the constable’s shop had been burnt and that he was not on duty when the firing took place. Again, the matter was admitted and has been posted for final hearing.

My most telling experience was however during the Best Bakery case appeal in December 2003. The matter was first listed before justices KR Vyas and AL Dave but the bench declined to hear the matter. We were then told that another two-member bench was assigned to the case but they also declined to hear the matter. Ultimately, the matter came up before justices BJ Sethna and JR Vohra. The witness, Sairabano (sister of key witness, Zahira Shaikh), had filed a revision petition challenging the order of acquittal (of the accused) before the high court even as the state government had to file a criminal appeal against the same acquittal under pressure from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had also passed strictures about the state of Gujarat’s lacklustre attitude towards justice. There was about a 17-day delay in filing the revision application so when the matter was finally heard, the revision application and the application for condoning the delay were heard together. The court rejected our revision application and directed me, appearing for the witness, to assist the PP in the state’s appeal.

Thereafter the appeal was heard in an extremely hostile atmosphere. The courtroom was packed with supporters of the accused and possibly none, or few, in that hostile and crowded courtroom wanted the state’s appeal to be allowed. I submitted my written arguments on behalf of the witness. The court, however, refused to accept these. I also filed an affidavit by the witness, Sairabano, and as is common procedure in the high court, this was served to the accused and the prosecution five days earlier. It was submitted through the computer at about 4.10 p.m. on December 12, 2003. I also obtained a status report recording the submitted affidavit as item 16. At the time, the appeal was still being heard on a day-to-day basis.

However, the court did not accept the witness’ affidavit and it was returned as per court directions. Entries on the computer were deleted and the status report now showed item 16 as "missing". The operative part of the judgement in the state’s appeal, confirming the acquittal, was pronounced on December 26, 2003 while the detailed judgement followed after the winter vacation on January 12, 2004. When courts reopened I was surprised to find that written arguments on behalf of the accused and those by the PP had been submitted and accepted for consideration after the court had decided on the matter. This by the same court that had rejected written arguments on behalf of the witness, Sairabano! Not only was the atmosphere fraught and hostile, these developments were deeply shocking.

Much of what took place within the courts was reflected at social functions within the legal fraternity. During this period judges were even heard commenting that some lawyers and activists were only trying to rake up old issues to keep them alive and defame Gujarat’s image in the world.

More recently, events in the court during the hearing of the Pandharwada mass graves case are worth a mention. Here we were asking for a transfer of the whole investigation to the CBI. During the course of the hearing in the high court, at one stage even counsel for the CBI made hostile remarks about the co-petitioners, CJP. There were humiliating comments from the court as well, suggesting that the petitioners’ legal interventions were motivated by personal gain.

Notwithstanding the many stumbling blocks, I still believe that if we work, as we must, with full faith and honesty, it can be a truly rewarding experience. Even so, the continuing hostility makes this a frightening exercise. There will be moments when we are disheartened. And there have been many such moments. At one stage during a crucial matter a government pleader attempted to browbeat me, saying that if I carried on like this prosecutors would be instructed to oppose me in all my regular matters as well. But I refused to give in. I have done my job with great satisfaction.

Recently we filed a petition asking that an FIR be registered against the chief minister and 62 others on charges that include criminal conspiracy, mass murder, manslaughter and intimidation (the PIL filed by Zakiya Jaffri and CJP). Some lawyers telephoned me to say that my role in the proceedings, where senior policemen and bureaucrats were also accused, was a recipe for disaster. I would be making formidable enemies.

These are but cheap threats to block the sterling work being done by organisations like CJP.

(As told to Communalism Combat.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, Voices 2

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Sabrang

Reporting Gujarat

01 Jul 2007

 
The aftermath of the genocide in Gujarat has had a tremendous impact on the role of media persons. The mainstream media, often accused of ignoring the fallout of tragedies, has in this more than in other cases, pursued the story, often at risk of isolation, intimidation and threat.


At what individual and organisational cost? Media groups, ever mindful of advertisement revenue, remain supinely dependent on the moolah rolling in. Hence Modi’s steamrolling efforts to promote a vision of normalcy – the aggressive advertisement of a ‘vibrant Gujarat’ campaign at the taxpayer’s cost – aided by the big guns of industry. But this has been resisted by resilient men and women in the media, reporting on state crimes.

Even the central government controlled Swagat magazine (January 2007) published by Indian Airlines and brought out by the Media Transasia group, carrying a message from a smiling civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, in its opening pages, gave ‘impressive Gujarat statistics’ a glowing certificate. It made no mention whatsoever of the growing suicides among the state’s urban business classes, the agricultural crisis, and other issues, let alone life for 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population, its Muslims, after the genocide.

But what of the individuals that make up the media’s larger whole? Reporters and correspondents, editors and subeditors, who have, sometimes at great risk, continued with free, fair and fearless coverage in Gujarat?

CC salutes the journalists who keep Indian democracy alive and breathing even when national human rights institutions and courts slip into arrogant slumber. We bring you their voices, their opinions, their life experiences. For obvious reasons, we protect their anonymity.

"There is never any scope for argument or debate in Gujarat"

The support I received both from my newspaper and also my colleagues, as a woman reporting on issues of the day, in 2002 and thereafter, has been rewarding. My family, too, has been very supportive, unusually so. So I did not have to face the struggles a woman has to within the home. During the worst period of 2002, my family let me move out of the house, and subtly, my colleagues protected me. A small thing, my identity card and purse were taken away from the very first day, and everywhere I went, a colleague accompanied me.

Now, there are two ways you can look at this, this removal of my identity and personal protection. I looked at it positively. This attempt to make me incognito in a small town like Vadodara where I had grown up, studied, etc, and where a lot of the people knew me. I received strange feelers, assurances from some local BJP leaders about my safety. It was bizarre…These same people who knew the circumstances under which my whole family was forced into a distress sale of our home of many years in a cosmopolitan area and our move to a Muslim locality in May 2002, were still inquiring after my personal safety.

An office jeep picked up my family and helped them move away. I couldn’t be with them. They knew I was safe. Fed up with living like that, living out of a knapsack for a week or more, I chopped off my long hair. During those days I wouldn’t give out my visiting card to anyone. Was hiding my identity cheating?

At that point it was survival. The anger and fear hit me about six months later. In the immediate aftermath, reporting under my byline or a shared byline, the nitty-gritty of being a journalist consumed me. A little later, my objectivity suddenly became a question, professionally, because of my religious identity. A couple of stories soured my ties with professional colleagues. One about a murder in Vadodara district which led to a boycott of the minority community. Suddenly the local media fraternity and the Vadodara collector were upset and even tried to tell me to stop doing such stories because of my ‘objectivity’! Now, that hurt.

In one sense I’ve lived with being a suspect since I was a kid, since college when cricket matches would be played or I would be picked upon during a college debate simply because I was a Muslim. I knew how to give it back. I, unfortunately, was not, am not, a shy person and picked fights. Having been a suspect for a large part of my 35 years, it is something that I, unfortunately, have to live with. But not in my profession – or so I thought.

Originally from Maharashtra, I did my postgraduation from Pune. But I was born and brought up in Vadodara. There is communal prejudice in both states but it is very different, the manner in which prejudice is handled, the manner in which issues are tackled. For example, in Maharashtra, a person with an RSS bent will have no pretences, like it or not, it will be up front. It prepares you to handle it. In college at Nashik I had a pracharak (RSS propagator) for a classmate, with whom I had loud disagreements and arguments. But once the argument was over we would walk together to the chai ki kitli (tea kettle) and canteen and eat and snack together. In Gujarat, the prejudice will never be spelt out. My neighbours in Ellora Park were very nice to us, we grew up there, but they didn’t stand up for us. We had to move out to Binanagar in the midst of the violence. There is never any scope for argument or debate in Gujarat.

One learns to live by these norms and realities. In retrospect, I did feel anger and fear but I felt I could handle it because no one came and threatened me. It was my city, the city where I was born, went to college, stood for student council elections and so on. In a sense I also confuse the locals a bit because I don’t fit into the stereotype of either the Gujarati Muslim or the migrant UP Muslim.

Personal relationships were sacrificed by the wayside in the flames of the genocide. Persons dear to you stop talking to you overnight. But then, I say, compared to what happened to others, this was too small a price.

One of my closest relationships died an abrupt death. A very precious relationship broke up when a person I loved, whom I had grown up with, suddenly couldn’t handle my being a Muslim, after 2002. This is what 2002 did and what 2002 brought. It wasn’t safe to be seen with a Muslim, and some just couldn’t handle the pressure. People were being killed, so there was no point in getting angry about this. So I gave up a relationship that had meant a lot to me ever since I was a child. My mother was also upset that I had to give it up. I had to pay a very heavy price for this break. I have no energy to try something like this again. I simply do not have it in me to take that emotional risk.

More than anything else, I feel scarred and unsure of myself as a woman. In Gujarat if you are a Muslim, people forget you are a woman. If I were to be raped it is not because I am a woman but because I am a Muslim. My femininity has been torn from me. I feel my feminine side broken from inside by the outside.

On the other hand, there is pressure from within the Muslim community. After 2002, marrying a non-Muslim was out of the question. Hell would have broken loose. I wouldn’t want to do something like that. It takes attention away from what the community needs, education, etc. I have younger siblings. So far my community admires me and supports me. My family and all of us need and feel this support. We are seen to be ‘decent Muslim girls’. If I were to take any step that would disturb that, my family and I would have to pay the price.

So at the moment I don’t have the energy for a personal relationship. I cannot trust a non-Muslim, or any man. And I’m not at all sure that a Muslim man will accept me as I am. He would not be comfortable with me as I am, a thinking woman whose profession means she has to fraternise with other men, who works odd hours, etc. So while the possibility of an intimate relationship with a non-Muslim man has been given up, with Muslim men there is this fundamental problem. I feel too tired to negotiate this politics of identity.

It is the innocence of your everyday life that has been taken away. Even today when I go to my old neighbourhood, post office, bank, laundrywala, I come back very upset, very disturbed. Then I tell myself, listen, you saw, first-hand, what had happened to women, children, men. The killings, the rapes… at least we are better off than that.

Now, five years after living in a rented house, we are building our home again, afresh. My brother is moving on… my family and I made it a point to see that while he was finishing his studies he spent three months with close non-Muslim friends. He is young so we didn’t want him to live in fear of the non-Muslim after what had happened, what he had seen in Vadodara.

In between, I visited the UK for a three-month period and had a chance to see how the Indian Muslim community in the UK lives. It was an eye-opener for me. I felt better and good in India, even in Vadodara.

Things are too conservative there… I had to face questions like, "How can a Muslim girl move around unescorted, without the hijab?" No one, not even my mother, asks me these questions here, nor does she herself live like that. Muslims there live in some other world; it is a bit frightening. In India I can fight back, I can cry. The system, or someone, will respond. But in the UK, you are being torn apart by two worlds. As a Muslim, this is still the best place for me.

"The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here"

What are the pressures and dangers of reporting on Gujarat?


Pressures and dangers are there only if you allow them to affect you and your work. From February 2002 till date, we at the TOI haven’t allowed our reporting to get blunted. Once those in power realise we can’t be browbeaten, and nor are we open to negotiation on reporting the truth, they start looking elsewhere for support.  

How easy or difficult is it to negotiate spaces in Gujarat given the kind of administration and government there is?

It is challenging, though easy at times. Given the autocratic nature of those at the top levels of the present government, you do find bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and even competing journalists who are more than willing to share information which would embarrass the government. Our best sources remain the dissenters within the administration and there is a whole army of them despite the fear psychosis around otherwise preventing leaking information to the media.  

Could you give some examples?

Entry to even accredited journalists to the Sachivalaya has been restricted. Entry to the Police Bhavan was banned for many weeks. The daily bus service for journalists from Gandhinagar is now restricted. Ministers cannot speak to the press without permission from the chief minister! Bureaucrats give information but don’t want their names in newspapers. Earlier, chief ministers had weekly press meets. With Modi, these are very rare.

What are the pressures or dangers felt by a working journalist in a decision making position from both state and non-state actors?

Tolerance of criticism among high-ranking politicians is the lowest in the present regime in Gujarat. If you are seen as being even mildly critical of the government’s policies, your access can get curbed. But as a journalist, you can’t allow your decision making to get clouded by these concerns. 

How do you compare Gujarat with the rest of the country?

That Gujaratis are a "mild community" is a deception. The prejudices run much deeper here, at least as far as other communities are concerned. In other states/cities, it is still possible to find Hindus and Muslims living together in a neighbourhood, same buildings. Not in Gujarat. There is not much exchange between communities even on occasions like Diwali or Id. The younger generation is growing up in isolation, without any appreciation of the others’ culture, religion. This mixing is not there even in some schools. That does not augur well for the future. The only hope is that Gujaratis do not want anything to come in the way of economic prosperity. There is a realisation that communal violence does retard the progress of the state.

 Could you elaborate?

The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here. Atrocities under centuries of Muslim rule and invasions from the north-west have been selectively documented by historians. These are passed on to the next generation not only by word of mouth but also in the form of published literature. The deep divide comes not only because of different faiths but also because of eating habits, as Gujarat is the cradle for vegetarianism. It is therefore much easier for politicians to exploit these sentiments. While intolerance is all pervasive, authoritarianism is a trait peculiar to Narendra Modi because it helps him nurture that carefully cultivated he-man image. 

"They tire you psychologically and drain you professionally" 

Manifold pressures


 The Gujarat government is infamous for gagging the press. It particularly hates any and everyone with secular credentials. The pressure, to be a working journalist and also be secular, is even greater for vernacular journalists. To brand all of them as a loud vernacular voice would be an injustice because these journos do have a voice, an ideology and a conscience that sometimes gets killed because they work for small managements. The pressures are manifold.

Number one is there is no free flow of information. In the name of security, access to information and people is curtailed. It becomes difficult to get the truth. Once you get the truth and the truth is what the government does not like, there are sophisticated government methods to distort the truth. In the case of Sohrabuddin (Sheikh), the media took the initiative. However everyone knows of how media reports were denied.

Dangers? Ceaseless amounts of defamation and criminal cases. In the past there were cases but most of them were not criminal offences. Now the trend is, file a criminal offence. The journalist gets tired going to the lower courts. They make you stand with criminals. They treat you like shit. The level of judiciary and its competence in Gujarat is a known story (and scandal). For one story…there would be complaints, criminal offences filed from four different places. They tire you psychologically and drain you professionally. I have about half a dozen of them going on at various lower courts at this point of time against the stories I have written.

Dissemination of false information is an important portfolio of the Gujarat government. First the government never lied. Now they never tell you the truth. So as you chase the truth, the pressure is to "toe the government line".

Phone tapping, anonymous dirty calls, pressure to influence your bosses, your peer, mud-slinging (typical RSS style), character assassination… there is a constant insecurity, a fear. Freedom of the press is an alien term. Often, the reporter may expose the best story but the management or the boss is "bought over". Lured by government ads, by private SEZ projects…an endless list. In the end, the journo ends up frustrated.


Selling one’s soul

Negotiation simply means a deal. A deal where you sell your soul. There are cases of reporters being obliged with bungalows, dealerships for siblings or jobs in some public sector undertaking (PSU). The government simply wants to gag all critical voices. Editorial policies are to emanate from the chief minister’s office…

 Personal attacks

Attempts to influence? By invoking religion and the son of soil factor in the main… Are you a Hindu, a Gujarati? How can you be anti-Hindu? You are a coward (at a time when the Gujarat Samachar was totally Modi-ised… articles with names criticising convent educated Gujaratis who have been educated abroad and have now gone ‘astray’ and ‘are following western culture’, apart from being ‘pseudo secular’, abounded. By naming you, they tarnished your image and branded you. In Gujarat, unlike in Mumbai or in Delhi, which are larger and with a degree of professionalism, there is some anonymity... in Gujarat you cannot separate the personal from the professional. The "branding" affects you everywhere.
 
‘Managing’ journalists

I have worked in Mumbai, in London and the USA too. In all these other places, if you are right, the government is magnanimous enough to appreciate and acknowledge this. You feel a part of an overall system. There is a certain satisfaction of doing the right thing; here you know you are going to be in deep trouble. There will be attempts to gag you, starting from Arun Jaitley’s level to Surendra Patel’s level. "Managing journalists" is an art that the BJP has mastered. When they are not able to manage journos with integrity, these journalists become ‘pseudo secular’ who are not ‘well-wishers of Gujarat.’

Under constant threat

Gujarat’s communalism is more neopolitical in nature than social. At the moment, there is no ideology involved. Editorial courage and independence are under constant threat. Modi has this particular quality where he can convert criticism into a public movement. He would demean the journalist instead of his journalistic work and publicly pronounce the person or that particular media house or channel a villain.

For small and medium newspapers, withholding of ads is a regular feature. The new media policy of the Gujarat government is skewed. The Jansatta’s Rajkot edition has been closed down because of massive ad cuts that make it difficult for operations. Government advertisements are important for any normal, small or medium sized newspaper’s survival and revenue.

Efforts are made by those in power at times, sometimes via the journos and sometimes at management level, for a complete news blackout. For instance, how many people have read about corruption charges against Modi (though this is now expected to blow up in the next two weeks), home minister Amit Shah’s murky deals, Surendra Patel’s obsession with a builder lobby? These are all examples of news blackout. 

At the moment there is a temporary unintentional pause in the government’s relentless campaign to muzzle the press but that is because the government is too busy sorting out its own rebels. Soon we will see several media houses and journos ganging up with the government. These self-proclaimed saviours from the media will, in the months to come, stoke up hatred against all whom Modi dubs ‘pseudo secular.’

(As told to Communalism Combat.)

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

Reporting Gujarat


 
The aftermath of the genocide in Gujarat has had a tremendous impact on the role of media persons. The mainstream media, often accused of ignoring the fallout of tragedies, has in this more than in other cases, pursued the story, often at risk of isolation, intimidation and threat.


At what individual and organisational cost? Media groups, ever mindful of advertisement revenue, remain supinely dependent on the moolah rolling in. Hence Modi’s steamrolling efforts to promote a vision of normalcy – the aggressive advertisement of a ‘vibrant Gujarat’ campaign at the taxpayer’s cost – aided by the big guns of industry. But this has been resisted by resilient men and women in the media, reporting on state crimes.

Even the central government controlled Swagat magazine (January 2007) published by Indian Airlines and brought out by the Media Transasia group, carrying a message from a smiling civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, in its opening pages, gave ‘impressive Gujarat statistics’ a glowing certificate. It made no mention whatsoever of the growing suicides among the state’s urban business classes, the agricultural crisis, and other issues, let alone life for 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population, its Muslims, after the genocide.

But what of the individuals that make up the media’s larger whole? Reporters and correspondents, editors and subeditors, who have, sometimes at great risk, continued with free, fair and fearless coverage in Gujarat?

CC salutes the journalists who keep Indian democracy alive and breathing even when national human rights institutions and courts slip into arrogant slumber. We bring you their voices, their opinions, their life experiences. For obvious reasons, we protect their anonymity.

"There is never any scope for argument or debate in Gujarat"

The support I received both from my newspaper and also my colleagues, as a woman reporting on issues of the day, in 2002 and thereafter, has been rewarding. My family, too, has been very supportive, unusually so. So I did not have to face the struggles a woman has to within the home. During the worst period of 2002, my family let me move out of the house, and subtly, my colleagues protected me. A small thing, my identity card and purse were taken away from the very first day, and everywhere I went, a colleague accompanied me.

Now, there are two ways you can look at this, this removal of my identity and personal protection. I looked at it positively. This attempt to make me incognito in a small town like Vadodara where I had grown up, studied, etc, and where a lot of the people knew me. I received strange feelers, assurances from some local BJP leaders about my safety. It was bizarre…These same people who knew the circumstances under which my whole family was forced into a distress sale of our home of many years in a cosmopolitan area and our move to a Muslim locality in May 2002, were still inquiring after my personal safety.

An office jeep picked up my family and helped them move away. I couldn’t be with them. They knew I was safe. Fed up with living like that, living out of a knapsack for a week or more, I chopped off my long hair. During those days I wouldn’t give out my visiting card to anyone. Was hiding my identity cheating?

At that point it was survival. The anger and fear hit me about six months later. In the immediate aftermath, reporting under my byline or a shared byline, the nitty-gritty of being a journalist consumed me. A little later, my objectivity suddenly became a question, professionally, because of my religious identity. A couple of stories soured my ties with professional colleagues. One about a murder in Vadodara district which led to a boycott of the minority community. Suddenly the local media fraternity and the Vadodara collector were upset and even tried to tell me to stop doing such stories because of my ‘objectivity’! Now, that hurt.

In one sense I’ve lived with being a suspect since I was a kid, since college when cricket matches would be played or I would be picked upon during a college debate simply because I was a Muslim. I knew how to give it back. I, unfortunately, was not, am not, a shy person and picked fights. Having been a suspect for a large part of my 35 years, it is something that I, unfortunately, have to live with. But not in my profession – or so I thought.

Originally from Maharashtra, I did my postgraduation from Pune. But I was born and brought up in Vadodara. There is communal prejudice in both states but it is very different, the manner in which prejudice is handled, the manner in which issues are tackled. For example, in Maharashtra, a person with an RSS bent will have no pretences, like it or not, it will be up front. It prepares you to handle it. In college at Nashik I had a pracharak (RSS propagator) for a classmate, with whom I had loud disagreements and arguments. But once the argument was over we would walk together to the chai ki kitli (tea kettle) and canteen and eat and snack together. In Gujarat, the prejudice will never be spelt out. My neighbours in Ellora Park were very nice to us, we grew up there, but they didn’t stand up for us. We had to move out to Binanagar in the midst of the violence. There is never any scope for argument or debate in Gujarat.

One learns to live by these norms and realities. In retrospect, I did feel anger and fear but I felt I could handle it because no one came and threatened me. It was my city, the city where I was born, went to college, stood for student council elections and so on. In a sense I also confuse the locals a bit because I don’t fit into the stereotype of either the Gujarati Muslim or the migrant UP Muslim.

Personal relationships were sacrificed by the wayside in the flames of the genocide. Persons dear to you stop talking to you overnight. But then, I say, compared to what happened to others, this was too small a price.

One of my closest relationships died an abrupt death. A very precious relationship broke up when a person I loved, whom I had grown up with, suddenly couldn’t handle my being a Muslim, after 2002. This is what 2002 did and what 2002 brought. It wasn’t safe to be seen with a Muslim, and some just couldn’t handle the pressure. People were being killed, so there was no point in getting angry about this. So I gave up a relationship that had meant a lot to me ever since I was a child. My mother was also upset that I had to give it up. I had to pay a very heavy price for this break. I have no energy to try something like this again. I simply do not have it in me to take that emotional risk.

More than anything else, I feel scarred and unsure of myself as a woman. In Gujarat if you are a Muslim, people forget you are a woman. If I were to be raped it is not because I am a woman but because I am a Muslim. My femininity has been torn from me. I feel my feminine side broken from inside by the outside.

On the other hand, there is pressure from within the Muslim community. After 2002, marrying a non-Muslim was out of the question. Hell would have broken loose. I wouldn’t want to do something like that. It takes attention away from what the community needs, education, etc. I have younger siblings. So far my community admires me and supports me. My family and all of us need and feel this support. We are seen to be ‘decent Muslim girls’. If I were to take any step that would disturb that, my family and I would have to pay the price.

So at the moment I don’t have the energy for a personal relationship. I cannot trust a non-Muslim, or any man. And I’m not at all sure that a Muslim man will accept me as I am. He would not be comfortable with me as I am, a thinking woman whose profession means she has to fraternise with other men, who works odd hours, etc. So while the possibility of an intimate relationship with a non-Muslim man has been given up, with Muslim men there is this fundamental problem. I feel too tired to negotiate this politics of identity.

It is the innocence of your everyday life that has been taken away. Even today when I go to my old neighbourhood, post office, bank, laundrywala, I come back very upset, very disturbed. Then I tell myself, listen, you saw, first-hand, what had happened to women, children, men. The killings, the rapes… at least we are better off than that.

Now, five years after living in a rented house, we are building our home again, afresh. My brother is moving on… my family and I made it a point to see that while he was finishing his studies he spent three months with close non-Muslim friends. He is young so we didn’t want him to live in fear of the non-Muslim after what had happened, what he had seen in Vadodara.

In between, I visited the UK for a three-month period and had a chance to see how the Indian Muslim community in the UK lives. It was an eye-opener for me. I felt better and good in India, even in Vadodara.

Things are too conservative there… I had to face questions like, "How can a Muslim girl move around unescorted, without the hijab?" No one, not even my mother, asks me these questions here, nor does she herself live like that. Muslims there live in some other world; it is a bit frightening. In India I can fight back, I can cry. The system, or someone, will respond. But in the UK, you are being torn apart by two worlds. As a Muslim, this is still the best place for me.

"The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here"

What are the pressures and dangers of reporting on Gujarat?


Pressures and dangers are there only if you allow them to affect you and your work. From February 2002 till date, we at the TOI haven’t allowed our reporting to get blunted. Once those in power realise we can’t be browbeaten, and nor are we open to negotiation on reporting the truth, they start looking elsewhere for support.  

How easy or difficult is it to negotiate spaces in Gujarat given the kind of administration and government there is?

It is challenging, though easy at times. Given the autocratic nature of those at the top levels of the present government, you do find bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians and even competing journalists who are more than willing to share information which would embarrass the government. Our best sources remain the dissenters within the administration and there is a whole army of them despite the fear psychosis around otherwise preventing leaking information to the media.  

Could you give some examples?

Entry to even accredited journalists to the Sachivalaya has been restricted. Entry to the Police Bhavan was banned for many weeks. The daily bus service for journalists from Gandhinagar is now restricted. Ministers cannot speak to the press without permission from the chief minister! Bureaucrats give information but don’t want their names in newspapers. Earlier, chief ministers had weekly press meets. With Modi, these are very rare.

What are the pressures or dangers felt by a working journalist in a decision making position from both state and non-state actors?

Tolerance of criticism among high-ranking politicians is the lowest in the present regime in Gujarat. If you are seen as being even mildly critical of the government’s policies, your access can get curbed. But as a journalist, you can’t allow your decision making to get clouded by these concerns. 

How do you compare Gujarat with the rest of the country?

That Gujaratis are a "mild community" is a deception. The prejudices run much deeper here, at least as far as other communities are concerned. In other states/cities, it is still possible to find Hindus and Muslims living together in a neighbourhood, same buildings. Not in Gujarat. There is not much exchange between communities even on occasions like Diwali or Id. The younger generation is growing up in isolation, without any appreciation of the others’ culture, religion. This mixing is not there even in some schools. That does not augur well for the future. The only hope is that Gujaratis do not want anything to come in the way of economic prosperity. There is a realisation that communal violence does retard the progress of the state.

 Could you elaborate?

The stereotypes and prejudices run much deeper here. Atrocities under centuries of Muslim rule and invasions from the north-west have been selectively documented by historians. These are passed on to the next generation not only by word of mouth but also in the form of published literature. The deep divide comes not only because of different faiths but also because of eating habits, as Gujarat is the cradle for vegetarianism. It is therefore much easier for politicians to exploit these sentiments. While intolerance is all pervasive, authoritarianism is a trait peculiar to Narendra Modi because it helps him nurture that carefully cultivated he-man image. 

"They tire you psychologically and drain you professionally" 

Manifold pressures


 The Gujarat government is infamous for gagging the press. It particularly hates any and everyone with secular credentials. The pressure, to be a working journalist and also be secular, is even greater for vernacular journalists. To brand all of them as a loud vernacular voice would be an injustice because these journos do have a voice, an ideology and a conscience that sometimes gets killed because they work for small managements. The pressures are manifold.

Number one is there is no free flow of information. In the name of security, access to information and people is curtailed. It becomes difficult to get the truth. Once you get the truth and the truth is what the government does not like, there are sophisticated government methods to distort the truth. In the case of Sohrabuddin (Sheikh), the media took the initiative. However everyone knows of how media reports were denied.

Dangers? Ceaseless amounts of defamation and criminal cases. In the past there were cases but most of them were not criminal offences. Now the trend is, file a criminal offence. The journalist gets tired going to the lower courts. They make you stand with criminals. They treat you like shit. The level of judiciary and its competence in Gujarat is a known story (and scandal). For one story…there would be complaints, criminal offences filed from four different places. They tire you psychologically and drain you professionally. I have about half a dozen of them going on at various lower courts at this point of time against the stories I have written.

Dissemination of false information is an important portfolio of the Gujarat government. First the government never lied. Now they never tell you the truth. So as you chase the truth, the pressure is to "toe the government line".

Phone tapping, anonymous dirty calls, pressure to influence your bosses, your peer, mud-slinging (typical RSS style), character assassination… there is a constant insecurity, a fear. Freedom of the press is an alien term. Often, the reporter may expose the best story but the management or the boss is "bought over". Lured by government ads, by private SEZ projects…an endless list. In the end, the journo ends up frustrated.


Selling one’s soul

Negotiation simply means a deal. A deal where you sell your soul. There are cases of reporters being obliged with bungalows, dealerships for siblings or jobs in some public sector undertaking (PSU). The government simply wants to gag all critical voices. Editorial policies are to emanate from the chief minister’s office…

 Personal attacks

Attempts to influence? By invoking religion and the son of soil factor in the main… Are you a Hindu, a Gujarati? How can you be anti-Hindu? You are a coward (at a time when the Gujarat Samachar was totally Modi-ised… articles with names criticising convent educated Gujaratis who have been educated abroad and have now gone ‘astray’ and ‘are following western culture’, apart from being ‘pseudo secular’, abounded. By naming you, they tarnished your image and branded you. In Gujarat, unlike in Mumbai or in Delhi, which are larger and with a degree of professionalism, there is some anonymity... in Gujarat you cannot separate the personal from the professional. The "branding" affects you everywhere.
 
‘Managing’ journalists

I have worked in Mumbai, in London and the USA too. In all these other places, if you are right, the government is magnanimous enough to appreciate and acknowledge this. You feel a part of an overall system. There is a certain satisfaction of doing the right thing; here you know you are going to be in deep trouble. There will be attempts to gag you, starting from Arun Jaitley’s level to Surendra Patel’s level. "Managing journalists" is an art that the BJP has mastered. When they are not able to manage journos with integrity, these journalists become ‘pseudo secular’ who are not ‘well-wishers of Gujarat.’

Under constant threat

Gujarat’s communalism is more neopolitical in nature than social. At the moment, there is no ideology involved. Editorial courage and independence are under constant threat. Modi has this particular quality where he can convert criticism into a public movement. He would demean the journalist instead of his journalistic work and publicly pronounce the person or that particular media house or channel a villain.

For small and medium newspapers, withholding of ads is a regular feature. The new media policy of the Gujarat government is skewed. The Jansatta’s Rajkot edition has been closed down because of massive ad cuts that make it difficult for operations. Government advertisements are important for any normal, small or medium sized newspaper’s survival and revenue.

Efforts are made by those in power at times, sometimes via the journos and sometimes at management level, for a complete news blackout. For instance, how many people have read about corruption charges against Modi (though this is now expected to blow up in the next two weeks), home minister Amit Shah’s murky deals, Surendra Patel’s obsession with a builder lobby? These are all examples of news blackout. 

At the moment there is a temporary unintentional pause in the government’s relentless campaign to muzzle the press but that is because the government is too busy sorting out its own rebels. Soon we will see several media houses and journos ganging up with the government. These self-proclaimed saviours from the media will, in the months to come, stoke up hatred against all whom Modi dubs ‘pseudo secular.’

(As told to Communalism Combat.)

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

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Sabrang

Salute to a serving officer

01 Jul 2007
 
The extent of state complicity in planning and executing the genocide in Gujarat has been exposed by the courageous and persistent struggle by victim survivors backed by citizens’ legal rights groups and reinforced by the overwhelming official data that was placed in the public domain. Two policemen stand out for performing this invaluable service, RB Sreekumar and Rahul Sharma. The state has attempted to teach the first a lesson, unsuccessful so far due to the man’s forbearance, sense of humour and courage. CC salutes the second while recording in detail his significant contribution to the pursuit of truth.

Rahul Sharma



Showing rare courage, Rahul Sharma, then superintendent of police, Bhavnagar (currently with the CBI), led his men from the front to prevent an attack on a boarding school that housed more than 400 Muslim children on March 1, 2002. Needless to say, he was transferred out of Bhavnagar soon thereafter. Sharma filed an affidavit before the Nanavati-Shah Commission in July 2002 and testified before the commission in October 2004.

His affidavit narrates the tale of collusion between sections of the law and order machinery and communal elements from the ruling BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal. He annexes a letter that he had written to the then state DGP, K. Chakravarti, on March 24, 2002. This relates to an incident that took place in Bhavnagar on March 23, 2002 when a local madrassa was under attack by a mob, following which 21 accused were arrested by the police.

"Following the arrest of the 21 accused in connection with the offence, about 200 women went to the police station that very evening along with the local leaders demanding that the accused be presented before the magistrate immediately and well before the 24 hours that the police could keep them in custody. The city DySP and the PI (police inspector) of ‘A’ division police station assured the leaders and the womenfolk that they would be presented before the magistrate on the same day."

Sharma remarks that there was something peculiar about the entire incident. A day before (i.e. on March 22, 2002) an unfounded rumour that some Hindu children had been kidnapped by a Muslim from the school had caused tension that led to all business establishments being closed down. The next day, on March 23, as things began to return to normal, a sudden incident disrupted the tenuous calm. Sharma says he was convinced the incident "was pre-planned and premeditated". He says in his letter that he also feared that these antisocial elements could be operating at the behest of some political masters who had assured them of all legal aid, including an early release from custody. Sharma felt "it was a well thought of plan to keep the communal issue alive till such time elections were to be announced". (On March 21, a BJP leader told Sharma that elections were now a "near certainty".)

In his letter to the DGP, Sharma goes on to firmly state that "a message should not be conveyed to the public in general that you can indulge in rioting, arson and stone pelting and can get away with it if you know someone well enough in the government, or, worse still, it you are acting at the behest of those persons. Such an impression about the police would be catastrophic for the district. In Bhavnagar, till date, there is no charge of a partisan role being played by the police."

Sharma put his foot down and insisted that the accused would have to spend a day in the lock-up. Again, he was approached by "some prominent political figures urging me (Sharma) to assist in securing an early bail for the accused". Sharma did not oblige.

The affidavit puts down in detail the repeated attempts made by politically powerful persons to attack and burn down the Akwada Madressa in Bhavnagar and also to attack other Muslim dominated areas of the city from March 1, 2002 onwards. Sharma states clearly that if necessary action had not been taken and adequate use of force not been deployed by him and his men, the number of deaths would have been enormous and "innocent people would have lost their lives".

Concerned with placing all the facts before the commission, Sharma has enclosed, with his affidavit, a list of persons who died during the communal incidents, a list of persons who died or were injured in police firing, detailed reports and records of police firings and records of messages received and sent by wireless. Put together these contain a minefield of information on the extent to which the political class and sections of the bureaucracy and the police went in their attempts to subvert the law and enact the genocide.

In his deposition before the commission, Sharma states (as he did earlier in his affidavit) that he had recommended action against the Sandesh newspaper for publication of inflammatory material on February 28, 2002. He also stated that he had ordered the arrest of Kishore Bhatt, Bhavnagar’s Shiv Sena chief, who was among those who made inflammatory speeches in Bhavnagar. For his courage and for being true to his professional calling, Sharma was transferred out of Bhavnagar to Ahmedabad city, as DCP (control room).

In his new post he was entrusted with the work of assisting in the investigations being conducted by the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police commissionerate. He was specifically asked by PC Pande, then police commissioner (CP) of Ahmedabad, to assist in the investigation of Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases which were being handled by SS Chudasama, then assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. (Chudasama, incidentally, is one of the policemen who have been implicated in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kauserbi encounter cases.) Sharma states that in all these sensitive cases, "more and more political leaders were being involved". It was in the course of these investigations that the joint CP (JCP) (crime branch), PP Pandey, had ordered investigations into the telephone records.

Sharma then told the commission that on the night of May 27/28, 2002 some accused involved in the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society incidents were arrested. By now, KR Kaushik had been brought in as CP, Ahmedabad. Sharma was not kept informed of the arrests, to which he objected. Thereafter, Kaushik issued instructions to PP Pandey that Sharma should be kept informed. Neither Kaushik nor Sharma were happy with the first charge sheet that was filed in the Gulberg Society case on June 3, 2002 and the CP communicated this to Pandey immediately.

The very next day, on June 4, Pandey called Sharma for a meeting. He then called for the Naroda Patiya case papers. Sharma was shown all the investigation papers and the JCP asked him to assess whether the investigation was being conducted properly. Initially Sharma said he needed time to make an assessment but Pandey insisted he should do it right away. According to the charge sheet, the violence in Naroda took place "because one person ran over a person of another community by a truck, whole mob got provoked and thereafter serious incidents had happened". (The charge sheet filed in the Gulberg Society case claimed that the gruesome massacre was precipitated by Ahsan Jaffri’s firing on the mob that had collected outside.) This did not seem convincing to Rahul Sharma.

He stated on oath: "There was serious difference of opinion between me and Mr Pandey and other investigating officers i.e. Mr Vanzara and Mr Chudasama and the discussion had lasted for about two hours… I had told them that since they were the investigating officers and Mr Pandey was superior, it was for them to decide what to do. Whatever difference I had was put in writing by me and handed over to Mr Kaushik by way of a letter dated June 4, 2002." Sharma produced this letter before the commission.

Police Commissioner Kaushik, who was not satisfied with the charge sheet that had been filed, called Sharma about 10 or 15 days later. He told Sharma to scrutinise the case papers of both cases thoroughly and point out the discrepancies to him. Kaushik instructed Pandey to send the case papers of these two cases to his office. After Pandey had brought the case papers and produced them before Kaushik, photocopies were prepared and they were handed over to Sharma.

“A message should not be conveyed to the public in general that you can indulge in rioting, arson and stone pelting and can get away with it if you know someone well enough in the government, or, worse still, it you are acting at the behest of those persons” – Rahul Sharma

Sharma then makes some startling assessments about the case papers. He says he noticed that the FIR and the charge sheet were mutually inconsistent. This was true of both the Gulberg massacre case as well as the Naroda Patiya and Gaon carnage cases. Sharma states on oath that in his assessment the firing by (Ahsan) Jaffri was not the cause for the subsequent attack on residents of Gulberg Society. In his assessment of the Naroda Patiya case, the incident with the truck was not the reason for the violence that followed. Sharma says that his assessment was based on a close reading of the FIRs and the case papers that were supplied to him.

On July 5, 2002, Sharma was once again transferred because, no doubt, of his honesty and candour. He could not therefore communicate this assessment to the then CP, KR Kaushik.

Rahul Sharma’s tale is one of guarded honesty before the commission.

Dial M for murder

In October 2004, when Sharma appeared before the Nanavati-Shah Commission and submitted two CDs with more than five lakh entries of calls made to and from the mobile phones of Gujarat’s policemen, this blew the lid off one more facet of state complicity. Despite this staggering evidence, two-and-a-half-years later, neither the Nanavati-Shah Commission, nor the Gujarat High Court, nor the apex court has ordered any suo motu investigation into these revelations. Why is the Indian system so reluctant, or lackadaisical, to pinpoint the guilty?

The CDs contain records of all cellphone calls made in Ahmedabad over the first five days of the genocide when a city racked by violence, witnessed some of the worst massacres. Until October 2004, these telephone records lay with the Gujarat police.

Jaideep Patel, general secretary, Gujarat VHP

Jaideep Patel is a pathologist by profession. His name appeared in 14 FIRs filed immediately after the Naroda massacre. He was seen by eyewitnesses, leading and instructing mobs to attack, rape, kill and burn. When these FIRs were clubbed with dozens of others – an act carried out by Ahmedabad’s notorious crime branch, under officers Tarun Barot and DG Vanzara – Patel’s name, as also that of the BJP MLA and co-accused, Maya Kodnani, mysteriously disappeared.

The evidence contained in the CD could prove a nightmare for Jaideep Patel. They contain records of all cellphone calls made in Ahmedabad from February 25, 2002 to March 4. The records begin two days before the horrific attack on the Sabarmati Express and include the five dreadful days that saw the worst communal carnage in recent history.

Investigations carried out first by The Indian Express and recently by NGOs in Gujarat and outside show that Patel was in touch with the key riot accused, top police officers, including the police commissioner, top government officials, and even the chief minister’s office while Naroda burned. These CDs, obtained by the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police as far back as April 2004, now sit with the Nanavati-Shah Commission. Although these are records of calls made, not transcripts of actual conversations, they reveal:
  • How the riot accused were in constant touch with politicians, police officers and government officials. All at a time when the city and the state were burning, as the Narendra Modi government looked the other way and the opposition’s Congress party slumbered.
  • Using cellphone tower locations, the data also provides information on the physical locations of both the caller and the recipient.

Records show that Patel, a resident of Naroda, was in Naroda when the massacre began. He then left for Bapunagar, which also witnessed killings, to return to Naroda after a while. Patel was in touch with other riot accused, Babu Bajrangi, Ashok Govind Patel, Bipin Patel and local BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of Jaideep Patel

February 27, 2002

Sabarmati Express attacked at 8.05 a.m. Bandh called by VHP that evening. BJP backs the bandh. Patel is in touch with senior police officials, his VHP colleagues in Delhi, state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, Gujarat BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana.

• 11.09 a.m.: Patel leaves the city for Godhra.

• 12.48 p.m.: Patel is in Godhra. One of the first persons he speaks to is the Ahmedabad DCP (zone V), RJ Savani, who calls him at 1.05 p.m.

• 2.29 p.m.: Patel receives a call from a Delhi number and speaks for 215 seconds. The number is registered in the name of Bharatiya Sanskriti Pratishthan, Sector-6, RK Puram, New Delhi, the VHP headquarters.

• 3.30 p.m.: Patel calls state Gujarat BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana, and speaks for 267 seconds. At 4 p.m. the VHP calls for a Gujarat bandh the next day. The BJP quickly declares its support.

• 5.00 p.m.: Patel receives a call from Bharatiya Sanskriti Pratishthan, New Delhi, and speaks for 357 seconds.

• 5.07 p.m.: Patel again receives a call from this Delhi institution.

• 5.14 p.m.: DCP Savani calls Patel and speaks for 117 seconds.

• 5.17 p.m.: DCP Savani again calls Patel.

• 8.03 p.m.: Patel receives a call from state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, and speaks for 159 seconds.

• 8.39 p.m.: Patel calls Zadaphiya.

• 9.13 p.m.: Patel calls Zadaphiya again, this time for just 3 seconds.

• 9.16 p.m.: DCP Savani calls Patel and speaks for 138 seconds.

• 9.20 p.m.: Patel again calls Zadaphiya and speaks for 186 seconds.

• After 11.58 p.m.: Patel leaves Godhra for Ahmedabad with the bodies of 58 persons who were killed in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express.

February 28, 2002

Ahmedabad erupts. Naroda Patiya is the scene of the worst massacre. Patel is in touch with the Naroda corporator minutes before the massacre begins.

• 2.34 a.m.: Patel enters Ahmedabad with 58 bodies of the Godhra victims, heads for Sola Civil Hospital.

• 9.17 a.m.: Patel calls the state health minister, Ashok Bhatt, and 10 minutes later, leaves for Naroda.

• 10.11 a.m.: Patel reaches Naroda and at 10.52 a.m. calls one Ashok Govind Patel of Naroda and speaks to him for 80 seconds.

(Ashok Govind Patel, who was in constant contact with Jaideep Patel through that period, is a BJP corporator from Naroda and an accused in the killing of eight persons in Naroda on February 28, 2002. He is also a co-accused in the case in which Jaideep Patel was named as an accused, one that was later closed by the crime branch.)

• 11.05 a.m.: Patel receives a call from a cellphone that was allegedly being used by the prime accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, Babu Bajrangi.

(The phone is registered in the name of one Priyanka Mahendra Pandya, B/3 Pragat Ghanshyam Society, Ranip. Records reveal that the phone had been carried to Godhra the previous day and was located in the Naroda area from the morning of February 28, 2002 until 8.28 p.m. that night. When The Sunday Express, contacted Mahendra Pandya, father of Priyanka Pandya, he said: "I have been using this cell number for more than a year. Three years ago, it was with Babubhai (Babu Bajrangi)."



According to the police FIR, the attacks in Naroda Patiya began at 11 a.m. and went on until 8 p.m.

• 11.12 a.m.: Ashok Patel calls Patel again.

• 11.21 a.m.: Jaideep Patel leaves for Bapunagar area. This was one of the areas in the city that witnessed unprecedented violence. The maximum number of deaths in private firing was reported from this area. The area fell under DCP Savani’s jurisdiction.

• 11.32 a.m.: Patel reaches Bapunagar and calls Zadaphiya.

• 11.37 a.m.: Key accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, Bipin Panchal alias Bipin Auto, calls Patel and speaks for 62 seconds.

• 11.40 a.m.: Patel calls DCP (zone IV) PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society fall, and speaks for 85 seconds. Seventy persons, including ex-Congress MP Ahsan Jaffri, were killed in Gulberg.

• 11.52 a.m.: Patel again calls DCP Gondia and this time speaks for 106 seconds.

• 11.55 a.m.: Patel calls Ashok Patel and speaks for 63 seconds.

• 12.01 p.m.: Ashok Patel calls back.

• 12.07 p.m.: Patel calls Ashok Patel and speaks for 71 seconds.

• 12.10 p.m.: Patel calls Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani, and speaks for 79 seconds.

• 12.20 p.m.: Patel calls DCP Gondia and speaks for 42 seconds.

• 12.25 p.m.: Patel returns to Naroda.

• 12.39 p.m.: Patel returns to Bapunagar area.

• 12.57 p.m.: Patel receives call from the cellphone being used by Babu Bajrangi.

• 1.00 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls Patel and speaks for 86 seconds.

• 1.17 p.m.: Bajrangi calls again.

• 1.19 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls.

• 1.23 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls again.

• 1.43 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls again and speaks for 72 seconds.

• 3.25 p.m.: Patel receives a call from the chief minister’s office and speaks for 141 seconds.

• 7.20 p.m.: Patel receives a call from a cellphone registered in the name of Sanjay Bhavsar of the general administration department, government of Gujarat, and speaks for 102 seconds.

• 7.24 p.m.: Bhavsar calls again.

• 7.28 p.m.: Patel calls Bhavsar.

• 7.31 p.m.: For the first time in the day, Patel calls the CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande, and speaks for 47 seconds.

• 8.29 p.m.: Patel returns to Naroda area.

• 9.11 p.m.: Patel receives a call from Tanmay Mehta, personal assistant (PA) to the chief minister. The conversation lasts 209 seconds.

• 11.32 p.m.: State BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana, calls Patel and speaks for 13 seconds.

By midnight, senior police officers, including the JCP, MK Tandon, had reached Naroda Patiya. The massacre over, survivors were being moved to hospitals and relief camps hastily set up by the Muslim community at Shah Alam and Dariya Khan Gummat. Meanwhile, another massacre had also taken place in Gulberg Society. Union defence minister, George Fernandes, arrives in town. The death toll in Ahmedabad alone was 125 and counting.



Certain key questions arise:
  • Why was the home minister, Gordhan Zadaphiya, in touch with Jaideep Patel?
  • Why did the chief minister’s office contact Jaideep Patel?
  • Did the crime branch study the cellphone records before closing the case against Patel?
  • Will the review panel, set up at the behest of the Supreme Court, look into these records while scrutinising the 2,100 closed riot cases?

Maya Kodnani, BJP MLA, Naroda

Kodnani is a practising gynaecologist whose clinic is barely a kilometre from the site of the Naroda Patiya massacre. The BJP MLA from Naroda, Kodnani was also named in an FIR and her name was subsequently dropped as an accused when the FIRs were illegally clubbed. She was seen by eyewitnesses, leading and instructing mobs to attack, rape, kill and burn.

A study of Kodnani’s cellphone, which is still in use, reveals that like fellow accused and VHP leader Jaideep Patel, the BJP leader too had been camping in the Naroda area until the evening of February 28, 2002, and was in close contact with those accused in the massacre, police officers, top politicians and VHP leaders, including the brother of VHP international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, and other accused from the area.

The attacks in Naroda began at 11 a.m. and went on until 8 p.m.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of Maya Kodnani

February 28, 2002

• 7.53 a.m.: Kodnani leaves her residence for Gandhinagar.

• 9.57 a.m.: Kodnani returns from Gandhinagar and heads straight for Sola Civil Hospital.

• 10.37 a.m.: Kodnani calls the office of the ACP (G Division), MT Rana, under whose jurisdiction Naroda and Meghaninagar fall.

• 10.39 a.m.: Kodnani calls the official cellphone of the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, Rana’s immediate boss.

• 11.23 a.m.: Kodnani leaves Sola Civil Hospital.

• 11.55 a.m.: Kodnani is in Shahibaug area (where she lives) when she receives a call from Dinesh Togadia, brother of VHP leader, Praveen Togadia, and speaks for 128 seconds.

• 12.10 p.m.: VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel calls Kodnani. Patel was also named as an accused in the Naroda massacre until the case was closed by the police.

• 12.21 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Nimesh Patel, a resident of Saijapur Bogha area, adjoining the Naroda Patiya locality. Patel is one of those accused in the killing of eight persons at Naroda village. After the call, Kodnani heads towards Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Kodnani reaches Naroda.

• 12.40 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Kodnani.

• 2.10 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Sri Swami Vivekanand Karnavati Charitable Trust, Maninagar, and speaks for 134 seconds.

• 2.33 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from the official residence of state education minister, Anandiben Patel, in Gandhinagar.

• 2.53 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from the office of the chief whip of the BJP legislative party.

• 3.31 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Ashok Govind Patel of Naroda and speaks for 91 seconds. As mentioned earlier, the BJP corporator, Ashok Patel, was a co-accused in the same case as Jaideep Patel.

• 4.09 p.m.: Kodnani leaves Naroda area and heads for Shahibaug.

A study of Kodnani’s cellphone, which is still in use, reveals that like fellow accused and VHP leader Jaideep Patel, the BJP leader too had been camping in the Naroda area until the evening of February 28, 2002, and was in close contact with those accused in the massacre

• 4.52 p.m.: Kodnani calls the DCP (zone V), RJ Savani, under whose jurisdiction widespread violence was reported from Bapunagar, Odhav, Amraiwadi and Hatkeshwar areas.

• 4.53 p.m.: Kodnani calls DCP (zone VI), BS Jebalia, under whose jurisdiction riots were reported from Vatwa, Danilimda and Kagdapith areas.

• 4.55 p.m.: Kodnani calls the ACP (sector I), Shivanand Jha, whose jurisdiction encompasses the western areas of the city, the worst affected areas within his jurisdiction being Paldi, Vejalpur and Navrangpura.

• 5.01 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Delhi.

• 5.46 p.m.: State BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana calls Kodnani.

• 7.03 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Kodnani.

According to the police FIR of the Naroda Patiya massacre and the Naroda killings, the attacks started at 11 a.m. and went on till 8 p.m.

Gulberg Society, Chamanpura, Meghaninagar, Ahmedabad

At about 7 a.m. on February 28, 2002, a mob started to attack the predominantly minority inhabited Gulberg Society, barely a few kilometres from the police commissionerate. The onslaught lasted over nine hours during which about 70 persons were massacred and 15 women were gang-raped. Former parliamentarian from the Congress party, Ahsan Jaffri, was among those killed. Jaffri made over 200 calls to top leaders, seeking help. No one responded. The then CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande visited Jaffri at around 10.30 a.m. and convinced him not to seek refuge elsewhere along with the 70 other Muslims who had sought shelter in his home. The attack intensified after Pande had left.

As DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia was the DCP in charge of both areas – Meghaninagar and Naroda – which together marked the most horrific day in the post-Godhra violence. Gondia’s cellphone records show that he spent a lot of time in areas outside his jurisdiction which reported little violence. They also show that he was in constant touch with the riot accused, including Nimesh Patel, who is accused in the Naroda killings. He was also in touch with accused, Jaideep Patel, VHP’s Gujarat general secretary and local BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani, and state revenue minister, Haren Pandya.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of DCP PB Gondia

February 28, 2002

• 10.39 a.m.: Just as DCP PB Gondia, reaches Naroda area, he receives a call from Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani. The call lasts 57 seconds.

• 11.05 a.m.: Gondia calls the JCP, MK Tandon’s office.

• 11.40 a.m.: Gondia, who is in Thakkarnagar, near Naroda, receives a call from VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel – who was accused of leading a mob in Naroda – and speaks for 86 seconds.

• 11.52 a.m.: Jaideep Patel calls again. They speak for 107 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Gondia calls Tandon and immediately moves to Naroda area.

• 12.20 p.m.: Jaideep Patel calls Gondia and speaks to him for 42 seconds.

• 12.35 p.m.: Gondia is in Meghaninagar area (Gulberg Society) and returns to Naroda by 12.53 p.m.

• 12.59 p.m.: Gondia calls the city police control room.

• Gondia remains in Naroda area till 1.44 p.m. At 1.53 p.m. he is in Meghaninagar area but leaves immediately and returns to Naroda. On the way, at 1.57 p.m., he receives a call from Tandon.

• 2.13 p.m.: Gondia is again in Meghaninagar area from where he calls Nimesh Patel, an accused in the Naroda village killings. Fifteen minutes later Gondia is in Naroda.

• 2.46 p.m.: Gondia returns to Meghaninagar and calls ACP MT Rana. Within five minutes, he leaves for the police commissionerate and reaches there by 2.55 p.m.

• 3.01 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 3.11 p.m.: Gondia has left the police commissionerate and heads for Revdi Bazaar, an area which does not fall under his jurisdiction, where little violence has been reported.

• 3.16 p.m.: Gondia receives calls from the CP, PC Pande.

• Gondia remains at Revdi Bazaar until 4.03 p.m. and at 4.12 reaches Meghaninagar area.

• 5.05 p.m.: Gondia receives a call from the residence of Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani. The call lasts 81 seconds. Gondia is in Meghaninagar area.

• 5.15 p.m.: ACP Rana calls Gondia and speaks to him for 101 seconds.

• 5.24 p.m. and 5.29 p.m.: Gondia receives calls from the official residence of the revenue minister, Haren Pandya.

• 6.55 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 10.06 p.m.: Gondia goes to Naroda area.

• 10.10 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

State role

Cellphone records fill in the missing blanks. They show that the Ahmedabad police commissioner, PC Pande received several calls from the chief minister’s office throughout the day and in the hours leading up to their meeting. Who kept calling? Narendra Modi’s PA, Tanmay Mehta, and Modi’s additional principal secretary, Anil Mukim.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of the CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande

February 27, 2002

• 8.53 a.m. (within an hour of the Godhra train arson): Pande, who is at his residence, receives a call from the state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya.

• 11.05 a.m.: Pande is at his office and receives a call from the DGP, K. Chakravarti.

• 11.38 a.m.: Chakravarti calls again.

• 12.48 p.m.: Chakravarti calls again.

• 1.08 p.m.: Pande calls the Ahmedabad district collector, K. Srinivas.

• 1.53 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande and speaks for 109 seconds.

• 2.59 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Tanmay Mehta, Narendra Modi’s PA.

• 3.35 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the chief minister’s additional principal secretary, Anil Mukim.

• 3.36 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mehta. Half a minute later, Mukim calls again.

• 3.40 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 3.50 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 5.02 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mukim. He returns the call after a minute.

• 5.28 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 107 seconds.

• 6.03 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mumbai and speaks for 154 seconds.

• 7.09 p.m.: Pande calls Mukim and speaks for 83 seconds.

• At 7.48 p.m. and 8.14 p.m.: Pande receives two calls from K. Srinivas.

• 8.26 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Sanjay Bhavsar, officer on special duty (OSD) to the chief minister.

• 9.13. p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 52 seconds.

• 9.18 p.m. and 9.19 p.m.: Pande receives calls from Zadaphiya.

• 9.42 p.m.: Pande has left the city for Gandhinagar and is half way there.

February 28, 2002

• 12.35 a.m.: Pande returns from Gandhinagar and heads straight for his office. He stays there until about one a.m.

• 8.12 a.m.: Pande is back in office and receives a call from Chakravarti.

• 8.50 a.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti.

• 9.30 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 126 seconds.

• 9.44 a.m.: Pande receives a call from the JCP (sector II), MK Tandon. Three minutes later, Pande is on his way to Sola Civil Hospital.

• 10.56 a.m.: Pande returns to the police commissionerate.

• 11.05 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande. By this time mobs have taken to the streets. According to police records, the attack on Gulberg Society began at 7 a.m. while in Naroda Patiya it began at 11 a.m.

• 11.31 a.m.: Pande receives a call from Zadaphiya’s office.

• 11.40 a.m.: Tanmay Mehta, Narendra Modi’s PA, calls Pande.

• 11.43 a.m.: Pande receives a call from Tandon, who has already reached Meghaninagar area (where Gulberg Society is located).

• 11.56 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls Tandon and speaks for 75 seconds. Three minutes after this call, Tandon leaves Meghaninagar.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande. By this time curfew has been imposed in the city.

• 1.21 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 1.45 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 1.56 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the office of state minister for water supply, Narottam Patel, and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 2.53 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 3.09 p.m.: Pande receives a call from city MLA and state health minister, Ashok Bhatt.

• 3.16 p.m.: Pande calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya localities fall.

• 3.22 p.m.: Pande receives a call from city MLA and state energy minister, Kaushik Patel, and speaks for 60 seconds.

• 3.38 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.54 p.m.: Pande calls Gondia.

• 3.57 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.59 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande. Minutes later, Chakravarti is at Pande’s office.

• 5.16 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Zadaphiya, who has just left the police commissionerate.

• 5.17 p.m.: Pande receives a call from a cellphone registered in the name of AP Patel, general administration department, government of Gujarat.

• 5.50 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 6.31 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the official residence of Ashok Bhatt and speaks for 232 seconds.

• 6.51 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Chakravarti, who is by then at Gandhinagar.

• 7.09 p.m.: Pande reaches Meghaninagar area.

• 7.11 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 7.26 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 7.31 p.m.: Pande receives a call from VHP leader and riot accused, Jaideep Patel. Pande leaves Meghaninagar area and goes back to his office.

• 8.52 p.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti and speaks for 110 seconds.

• 9.03 p.m.: Pande calls Anil Mukim, the chief minister’s additional principal secretary, and speaks for 229 seconds.

• 9.14 p.m.: Mukim calls Pande.

• 9.18 p.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti and speaks for 334 seconds.

• 10.27 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

Pande’s memory loss before the commission

Deposing before the Nanavati-Shah Commission on August 18, 2004, former CP, Ahmedabad city, PC Pande said he only heard about the Naroda Patiya violence at 9.30 p.m. on February 28, 2002, when "I received information that some persons had been killed there". And it was only when he went there at around 10 or 11 p.m. that he realised the "gravity" of the situation.

However, by 9.30 p.m., the Naroda massacre was long over. Eighty-three persons had already been killed and Pande’s cellphone records show that right through the afternoon, from 2.30 to 9 p.m., he was, in fact, in regular touch with two police officers in charge of the areas under which both Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society fall.

During the last half hour of the massacre at Naroda, Pande even received a call from VHP state general secretary and riot accused, Jaideep Patel. Nevertheless, in his deposition before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Pande said that he had not been "receiving any information regarding the serious incidents which followed after 2.30 p.m.".

Another point on which Pande claimed memory loss was the meeting called by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, on the night of the Godhra arson, hours after the VHP and the BJP had declared a bandh for the next day.

Lies before the commission

Joint CP (sector II), Ahmedabad, MK Tandon, who was in charge of areas that saw the worst two massacres, told the Nanavati-Shah Commission that he only heard about the attack on Gulberg Society at 2 p.m. on February 28. This was a massacre in which 70 people were killed, many of them burnt alive, including former Congress MP, Ahsan Jaffri. "I was not present when the mob was being dispersed as I had gone near the Gulberg Society at about 10.45 a.m. and then had gone to Naroda. I was in Naroda at about 12 p.m.," he deposed.

However, records of Tandon’s official cellphone reveal that between 11.34 a.m. and 12.09 p.m., he was in the Meghaninagar area (where Gulberg Society is).

From Meghaninagar, records show, he called up the DCP in charge of the area and the CP, PC Pande. (The attacks on Gulberg Society began at about 7 a.m. on February 28. Top police officers maintain however that they began much later, at about 10.30 that morning.)

He also told the commission that he only heard about the Naroda Patiya massacre at 9.30 p.m. "I do not know when the mob entered this Muslim locality and I also do not know if the police officials present on the spot tried to contact me during this time. I think that during this time, the telephone lines were jammed. I first came to know about this incident (Naroda Patiya) at 9.30 p.m. when I was in the Gulberg Society and immediately rushed there," he said.

But his cellphone details reveal that he was constantly in touch with the police officers who were in direct charge of the riot hit areas, and the police control room called him at least four times between 1.24 p.m. and 3.01 p.m.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of JCP (sector II) MK Tandon

February 27, 2002

• 9.50 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 10.05 a.m.: Tandon calls the police control room.

• 10.08 a.m.: Tandon again calls the police control room.

• 10.09 a.m.: Tandon calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia. Immediately, he receives a call from the DCP (zone V), RJ Savani.

• 10.11 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from the DCP (zone VI), BS Jebalia.

• 10.12 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 10.17 a.m.: ACP MT Rana calls Tandon.

• 11.31 a.m.: Tandon reaches the commissionerate and calls Savani and speaks for 70 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 160 seconds.

• 12.16 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon again.

• 12.57 p.m.: Tandon calls Jebalia.

• 12.58 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani and speaks for 128 seconds.

• 2.59 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 3.18 p.m.: Tandon calls Jebalia.

• 3.49 p.m.: Tandon again calls Jebalia and speaks for 84 seconds. Minutes later, Tandon leaves the commissionerate and goes to Revdi Bazaar, a communally sensitive area.

• 4.02 p.m.: Jebalia calls Tandon.

• 4.22 p.m.: Jebalia calls Tandon.

• 4.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani. Tandon goes to the New Cloth Market where the office of the DCP (zone VI) (BS Jebalia) is also situated.

• 4.39 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani.

• 5.20 p.m.: Tandon calls the CP, PC Pande and speaks for 104 seconds. Tandon leaves and heads towards Bapunagar and Naroda areas.

• 5.49 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani.

• 5.57 p.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 6.05 p.m.: Rana calls Tandon. Tandon is in Rakhial area.

• 6.46 p.m.: Tandon reaches Bapunagar and receives a call from Rana.

• 6.59 p.m.: Tandon reaches the Naroda area and calls Gondia.

• 7.17 p.m.: Tandon returns to the commissionerate.

• 8.42 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani and speaks for 232 seconds.

• 8.55 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 9.34 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 481 seconds.

• 10.32 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 100 seconds.

February 28, 2002

• 12.00 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon. Tandon immediately calls up then state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, and speaks for 133 seconds.

• Three minutes later, Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 96 seconds.

• 6.49 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from Delhi and speaks for 126 seconds.

• An hour later, Tandon speaks to his three DCPs, Gondia, Savani and Jebalia, at length.

• Between 9.20 a.m. and 9.36 a.m. Tandon speaks at length with Savani and Jebalia and then speaks to the CP, PC Pande.

• 11.20 a.m.: Tandon calls ACP MT Rana of Meghaninagar and Naroda areas.

• 11.34 a.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar (where Gulberg Society is) and calls Gondia, under whose jurisdiction both the areas fall. Ten minutes later, he calls the CP and then makes two successive calls to the city police control room.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls Tandon. Three minutes later Tandon leaves Meghaninagar area.

• 12.11 p.m.: Tandon reaches Naroda area.

DCP PB Gondia was in charge of both areas – Meghaninagar and Naroda – which together marked the most horrific day in the post-Godhra violence. Gondia’s cellphone records show that he spent a lot of time in areas outside his jurisdiction which reported little violence. They also show that he was in constant touch with the riot accused

• Between 12.14 p.m. and 12.18 p.m. Tandon makes three calls to Pande. At 12.26 p.m. he makes one call to the police control room.

• 12.33 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon, after which Tandon leaves Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 12.41 p.m.: Tandon calls Rana. Tandon is travelling through Bapunagar, Rakhial, and reaches Relief Road at 1.56 p.m. Tandon remains in the Relief Road and Revdi Bazaar areas until about 4 p.m.

• While Tandon is not in any of the riot hit areas within his jurisdiction, his cellphone details reveal he was constantly in touch with the DCPs, Gondia, Savani and Jebalia, the police control room, the CP, PC Pande and the city mayor, Himmatsinh Patel, during this time. The police control room called him at least four times between 1.24 p.m. and 3.01 p.m.

• 4.12 p.m.: Tandon reaches the police commissionerate.

• 4.28 p.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar area (Gulberg Society).

• 10.14 p.m.: Tandon visits Naroda area and leaves by 11.03 p.m.

Meanwhile, what did the police do when Jaffri was desperate for help?

Excerpts of the cellphone records of officers Pande, Tandon and Gondia have been deliberately repeated below to demonstrate how the calls made and received by them dovetail with those of other officers during the specific period when Ahsan Jaffri was so desperately seeking police assistance.

DGP K. Chakravarti:


• 11.56 p.m.: Chakravarti calls the CP, PC Pande, and speaks for 56 seconds.

• 12.18 p.m.: Chakravarti is in Gandhinagar; receives a call from the Ahmedabad district collector, K. Srinivas, and speaks for 59 seconds.

• 1.06 p.m.: Srinivas calls Chakravarti.

• 1.43 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 1.48 p.m.: Chakravarti receives a call from Badruddin Sheikh (Congress leader and then chairperson, standing committee, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation) and speaks for 91 seconds.

• 2.01 p.m.: Sheikh calls Chakravarti again.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 49 seconds.

• 3.50 p.m.: Chakravarti reaches the city and calls his office in Gandhinagar. (Jaffri is suspected to be dead by this time.)

• 3.51 p.m.: Chakravarti receives a call from the ADGP (law & order) and speaks for 132 seconds.

• 3.55 p.m.: Chakravarti reaches Shahibaug and calls Pande.

CP, PC Pande

• 11.56 p.m.: DGP Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls JCP MK Tandon and speaks for 75 seconds.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande. By this time, curfew has been imposed in the city.

• 1.21 p.m.: Tanmay Mehta, Modi’s PA, calls Pande.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande again.

• 1.45 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande again and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande for the third time and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande for the third time.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande again.

• 2.53 p.m.: Pande receives a call from state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya.

• 3.09 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the state health minister, Ashok Bhatt.

• 3.16 p.m.: Pande calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya localities fall.

• 3.38 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.54 p.m.: Pande calls Gondia.

• 3.57 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande again.

• 3.59 p.m.: Pande receives a fourth call from Chakravarti, who reaches Pande’s office minutes later.

Deposing before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Pande said Jaffri was killed between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Joint CP MK Tandon

• 11.58 a.m.: Tandon calls police control room and speaks for 68 seconds. Has reached Meghaninagar, where Gulberg Society is, at 11.34 a.m.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the CP, PC Pande. Three minutes later, Tandon leaves Meghaninagar area.

• 12.11 p.m.: Tandon reaches Naroda area.

• 12.14-12.18 p.m.: Makes three calls to Pande and one to the police control room at 12.26 p.m.

• 12.33 p.m.: Tandon leaves Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 12.41 p.m.: Tandon reaches Bapunagar and calls ACP MT Rana, under whose jurisdiction Meghaninagar and Naroda fall.

• 1.06 p.m.: Tandon calls DCP PB Gondia and speaks for 60 seconds. He is then in Rakhial.

• 1.11 p.m.: Tandon calls the city mayor, Himmatsinh Patel, and speaks for 78 seconds.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 54 seconds.

• 1.24 p.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 1.51 p.m.: Tandon reaches Revdi Bazaar and Relief Road.

• 1.57 p.m.: Tandon calls Gondia and speaks for 98 seconds.

• 1.59 p.m.: Tandon receives another call from the police control room.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 124 seconds.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 51 seconds.

• 2.52 p.m.: Tandon calls Himmatsinh Patel and speaks for 145 seconds.

• 2.57 p.m.: Tandon receives a third call from the police control room.

• 3.01 p.m.: Tandon receives a fourth call from the police control room.

• 3.30 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 72 seconds.

• 3.39 p.m.: Tandon receives a fifth call from the police control room.

• 3.40 p.m.: Tandon calls his office number at the police commissionerate.

• 4.12 p.m.: Tandon reaches the commissionerate.

• 4.28 p.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar area.

DCP PB Gondia

• 11.52 a.m.: Gondia receives a call from VHP general secretary and riot accused, Jaideep Patel, and speaks for 107 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Gondia calls JCP MK Tandon, moves to Naroda area.

• 12.20 p.m.: Jaideep Patel calls again and speaks for 42 seconds.

• 12.35 p.m.: Gondia is in Meghaninagar area, returns to Naroda by 12.53 p.m.

• 12.59 p.m.: Gondia calls the police control room.

• Gondia remains in Naroda area till 1.44 p.m.

At 1.53 p.m. Gondia is in Meghaninagar but returns to Naroda almost immediately. On the way, at 1.57 p.m., he receives a call from Tandon.

• 2.13 p.m.: Gondia is back in Meghaninagar from where he calls Nimesh Patel, an accused in the Naroda killings. Fifteen minutes later, Gondia is in Naroda.

• 2.46 p.m.: Gondia returns to Meghaninagar, calls ACP Rana. Within five minutes, he leaves for the police commissionerate, reaches by 2.55 p.m.

• 3.01 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 3.11 p.m.: Leaves the police commissionerate but heads for Revdi Bazaar from where little violence has been reported.

• 3.16 p.m.: Gondia receives a call from the CP, PC Pande.

• Gondia remains at Revdi Bazaar till 4.03 and at 4.12 p.m. reaches Meghaninagar area.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, State Complicity 5

Salute to a serving officer

 
The extent of state complicity in planning and executing the genocide in Gujarat has been exposed by the courageous and persistent struggle by victim survivors backed by citizens’ legal rights groups and reinforced by the overwhelming official data that was placed in the public domain. Two policemen stand out for performing this invaluable service, RB Sreekumar and Rahul Sharma. The state has attempted to teach the first a lesson, unsuccessful so far due to the man’s forbearance, sense of humour and courage. CC salutes the second while recording in detail his significant contribution to the pursuit of truth.

Rahul Sharma



Showing rare courage, Rahul Sharma, then superintendent of police, Bhavnagar (currently with the CBI), led his men from the front to prevent an attack on a boarding school that housed more than 400 Muslim children on March 1, 2002. Needless to say, he was transferred out of Bhavnagar soon thereafter. Sharma filed an affidavit before the Nanavati-Shah Commission in July 2002 and testified before the commission in October 2004.

His affidavit narrates the tale of collusion between sections of the law and order machinery and communal elements from the ruling BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal. He annexes a letter that he had written to the then state DGP, K. Chakravarti, on March 24, 2002. This relates to an incident that took place in Bhavnagar on March 23, 2002 when a local madrassa was under attack by a mob, following which 21 accused were arrested by the police.

"Following the arrest of the 21 accused in connection with the offence, about 200 women went to the police station that very evening along with the local leaders demanding that the accused be presented before the magistrate immediately and well before the 24 hours that the police could keep them in custody. The city DySP and the PI (police inspector) of ‘A’ division police station assured the leaders and the womenfolk that they would be presented before the magistrate on the same day."

Sharma remarks that there was something peculiar about the entire incident. A day before (i.e. on March 22, 2002) an unfounded rumour that some Hindu children had been kidnapped by a Muslim from the school had caused tension that led to all business establishments being closed down. The next day, on March 23, as things began to return to normal, a sudden incident disrupted the tenuous calm. Sharma says he was convinced the incident "was pre-planned and premeditated". He says in his letter that he also feared that these antisocial elements could be operating at the behest of some political masters who had assured them of all legal aid, including an early release from custody. Sharma felt "it was a well thought of plan to keep the communal issue alive till such time elections were to be announced". (On March 21, a BJP leader told Sharma that elections were now a "near certainty".)

In his letter to the DGP, Sharma goes on to firmly state that "a message should not be conveyed to the public in general that you can indulge in rioting, arson and stone pelting and can get away with it if you know someone well enough in the government, or, worse still, it you are acting at the behest of those persons. Such an impression about the police would be catastrophic for the district. In Bhavnagar, till date, there is no charge of a partisan role being played by the police."

Sharma put his foot down and insisted that the accused would have to spend a day in the lock-up. Again, he was approached by "some prominent political figures urging me (Sharma) to assist in securing an early bail for the accused". Sharma did not oblige.

The affidavit puts down in detail the repeated attempts made by politically powerful persons to attack and burn down the Akwada Madressa in Bhavnagar and also to attack other Muslim dominated areas of the city from March 1, 2002 onwards. Sharma states clearly that if necessary action had not been taken and adequate use of force not been deployed by him and his men, the number of deaths would have been enormous and "innocent people would have lost their lives".

Concerned with placing all the facts before the commission, Sharma has enclosed, with his affidavit, a list of persons who died during the communal incidents, a list of persons who died or were injured in police firing, detailed reports and records of police firings and records of messages received and sent by wireless. Put together these contain a minefield of information on the extent to which the political class and sections of the bureaucracy and the police went in their attempts to subvert the law and enact the genocide.

In his deposition before the commission, Sharma states (as he did earlier in his affidavit) that he had recommended action against the Sandesh newspaper for publication of inflammatory material on February 28, 2002. He also stated that he had ordered the arrest of Kishore Bhatt, Bhavnagar’s Shiv Sena chief, who was among those who made inflammatory speeches in Bhavnagar. For his courage and for being true to his professional calling, Sharma was transferred out of Bhavnagar to Ahmedabad city, as DCP (control room).

In his new post he was entrusted with the work of assisting in the investigations being conducted by the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police commissionerate. He was specifically asked by PC Pande, then police commissioner (CP) of Ahmedabad, to assist in the investigation of Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society cases which were being handled by SS Chudasama, then assistant commissioner of police (ACP) in the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. (Chudasama, incidentally, is one of the policemen who have been implicated in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kauserbi encounter cases.) Sharma states that in all these sensitive cases, "more and more political leaders were being involved". It was in the course of these investigations that the joint CP (JCP) (crime branch), PP Pandey, had ordered investigations into the telephone records.

Sharma then told the commission that on the night of May 27/28, 2002 some accused involved in the Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society incidents were arrested. By now, KR Kaushik had been brought in as CP, Ahmedabad. Sharma was not kept informed of the arrests, to which he objected. Thereafter, Kaushik issued instructions to PP Pandey that Sharma should be kept informed. Neither Kaushik nor Sharma were happy with the first charge sheet that was filed in the Gulberg Society case on June 3, 2002 and the CP communicated this to Pandey immediately.

The very next day, on June 4, Pandey called Sharma for a meeting. He then called for the Naroda Patiya case papers. Sharma was shown all the investigation papers and the JCP asked him to assess whether the investigation was being conducted properly. Initially Sharma said he needed time to make an assessment but Pandey insisted he should do it right away. According to the charge sheet, the violence in Naroda took place "because one person ran over a person of another community by a truck, whole mob got provoked and thereafter serious incidents had happened". (The charge sheet filed in the Gulberg Society case claimed that the gruesome massacre was precipitated by Ahsan Jaffri’s firing on the mob that had collected outside.) This did not seem convincing to Rahul Sharma.

He stated on oath: "There was serious difference of opinion between me and Mr Pandey and other investigating officers i.e. Mr Vanzara and Mr Chudasama and the discussion had lasted for about two hours… I had told them that since they were the investigating officers and Mr Pandey was superior, it was for them to decide what to do. Whatever difference I had was put in writing by me and handed over to Mr Kaushik by way of a letter dated June 4, 2002." Sharma produced this letter before the commission.

Police Commissioner Kaushik, who was not satisfied with the charge sheet that had been filed, called Sharma about 10 or 15 days later. He told Sharma to scrutinise the case papers of both cases thoroughly and point out the discrepancies to him. Kaushik instructed Pandey to send the case papers of these two cases to his office. After Pandey had brought the case papers and produced them before Kaushik, photocopies were prepared and they were handed over to Sharma.

“A message should not be conveyed to the public in general that you can indulge in rioting, arson and stone pelting and can get away with it if you know someone well enough in the government, or, worse still, it you are acting at the behest of those persons” – Rahul Sharma

Sharma then makes some startling assessments about the case papers. He says he noticed that the FIR and the charge sheet were mutually inconsistent. This was true of both the Gulberg massacre case as well as the Naroda Patiya and Gaon carnage cases. Sharma states on oath that in his assessment the firing by (Ahsan) Jaffri was not the cause for the subsequent attack on residents of Gulberg Society. In his assessment of the Naroda Patiya case, the incident with the truck was not the reason for the violence that followed. Sharma says that his assessment was based on a close reading of the FIRs and the case papers that were supplied to him.

On July 5, 2002, Sharma was once again transferred because, no doubt, of his honesty and candour. He could not therefore communicate this assessment to the then CP, KR Kaushik.

Rahul Sharma’s tale is one of guarded honesty before the commission.

Dial M for murder

In October 2004, when Sharma appeared before the Nanavati-Shah Commission and submitted two CDs with more than five lakh entries of calls made to and from the mobile phones of Gujarat’s policemen, this blew the lid off one more facet of state complicity. Despite this staggering evidence, two-and-a-half-years later, neither the Nanavati-Shah Commission, nor the Gujarat High Court, nor the apex court has ordered any suo motu investigation into these revelations. Why is the Indian system so reluctant, or lackadaisical, to pinpoint the guilty?

The CDs contain records of all cellphone calls made in Ahmedabad over the first five days of the genocide when a city racked by violence, witnessed some of the worst massacres. Until October 2004, these telephone records lay with the Gujarat police.

Jaideep Patel, general secretary, Gujarat VHP

Jaideep Patel is a pathologist by profession. His name appeared in 14 FIRs filed immediately after the Naroda massacre. He was seen by eyewitnesses, leading and instructing mobs to attack, rape, kill and burn. When these FIRs were clubbed with dozens of others – an act carried out by Ahmedabad’s notorious crime branch, under officers Tarun Barot and DG Vanzara – Patel’s name, as also that of the BJP MLA and co-accused, Maya Kodnani, mysteriously disappeared.

The evidence contained in the CD could prove a nightmare for Jaideep Patel. They contain records of all cellphone calls made in Ahmedabad from February 25, 2002 to March 4. The records begin two days before the horrific attack on the Sabarmati Express and include the five dreadful days that saw the worst communal carnage in recent history.

Investigations carried out first by The Indian Express and recently by NGOs in Gujarat and outside show that Patel was in touch with the key riot accused, top police officers, including the police commissioner, top government officials, and even the chief minister’s office while Naroda burned. These CDs, obtained by the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police as far back as April 2004, now sit with the Nanavati-Shah Commission. Although these are records of calls made, not transcripts of actual conversations, they reveal:
  • How the riot accused were in constant touch with politicians, police officers and government officials. All at a time when the city and the state were burning, as the Narendra Modi government looked the other way and the opposition’s Congress party slumbered.
  • Using cellphone tower locations, the data also provides information on the physical locations of both the caller and the recipient.

Records show that Patel, a resident of Naroda, was in Naroda when the massacre began. He then left for Bapunagar, which also witnessed killings, to return to Naroda after a while. Patel was in touch with other riot accused, Babu Bajrangi, Ashok Govind Patel, Bipin Patel and local BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of Jaideep Patel

February 27, 2002

Sabarmati Express attacked at 8.05 a.m. Bandh called by VHP that evening. BJP backs the bandh. Patel is in touch with senior police officials, his VHP colleagues in Delhi, state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, Gujarat BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana.

• 11.09 a.m.: Patel leaves the city for Godhra.

• 12.48 p.m.: Patel is in Godhra. One of the first persons he speaks to is the Ahmedabad DCP (zone V), RJ Savani, who calls him at 1.05 p.m.

• 2.29 p.m.: Patel receives a call from a Delhi number and speaks for 215 seconds. The number is registered in the name of Bharatiya Sanskriti Pratishthan, Sector-6, RK Puram, New Delhi, the VHP headquarters.

• 3.30 p.m.: Patel calls state Gujarat BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana, and speaks for 267 seconds. At 4 p.m. the VHP calls for a Gujarat bandh the next day. The BJP quickly declares its support.

• 5.00 p.m.: Patel receives a call from Bharatiya Sanskriti Pratishthan, New Delhi, and speaks for 357 seconds.

• 5.07 p.m.: Patel again receives a call from this Delhi institution.

• 5.14 p.m.: DCP Savani calls Patel and speaks for 117 seconds.

• 5.17 p.m.: DCP Savani again calls Patel.

• 8.03 p.m.: Patel receives a call from state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, and speaks for 159 seconds.

• 8.39 p.m.: Patel calls Zadaphiya.

• 9.13 p.m.: Patel calls Zadaphiya again, this time for just 3 seconds.

• 9.16 p.m.: DCP Savani calls Patel and speaks for 138 seconds.

• 9.20 p.m.: Patel again calls Zadaphiya and speaks for 186 seconds.

• After 11.58 p.m.: Patel leaves Godhra for Ahmedabad with the bodies of 58 persons who were killed in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express.

February 28, 2002

Ahmedabad erupts. Naroda Patiya is the scene of the worst massacre. Patel is in touch with the Naroda corporator minutes before the massacre begins.

• 2.34 a.m.: Patel enters Ahmedabad with 58 bodies of the Godhra victims, heads for Sola Civil Hospital.

• 9.17 a.m.: Patel calls the state health minister, Ashok Bhatt, and 10 minutes later, leaves for Naroda.

• 10.11 a.m.: Patel reaches Naroda and at 10.52 a.m. calls one Ashok Govind Patel of Naroda and speaks to him for 80 seconds.

(Ashok Govind Patel, who was in constant contact with Jaideep Patel through that period, is a BJP corporator from Naroda and an accused in the killing of eight persons in Naroda on February 28, 2002. He is also a co-accused in the case in which Jaideep Patel was named as an accused, one that was later closed by the crime branch.)

• 11.05 a.m.: Patel receives a call from a cellphone that was allegedly being used by the prime accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, Babu Bajrangi.

(The phone is registered in the name of one Priyanka Mahendra Pandya, B/3 Pragat Ghanshyam Society, Ranip. Records reveal that the phone had been carried to Godhra the previous day and was located in the Naroda area from the morning of February 28, 2002 until 8.28 p.m. that night. When The Sunday Express, contacted Mahendra Pandya, father of Priyanka Pandya, he said: "I have been using this cell number for more than a year. Three years ago, it was with Babubhai (Babu Bajrangi)."



According to the police FIR, the attacks in Naroda Patiya began at 11 a.m. and went on until 8 p.m.

• 11.12 a.m.: Ashok Patel calls Patel again.

• 11.21 a.m.: Jaideep Patel leaves for Bapunagar area. This was one of the areas in the city that witnessed unprecedented violence. The maximum number of deaths in private firing was reported from this area. The area fell under DCP Savani’s jurisdiction.

• 11.32 a.m.: Patel reaches Bapunagar and calls Zadaphiya.

• 11.37 a.m.: Key accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, Bipin Panchal alias Bipin Auto, calls Patel and speaks for 62 seconds.

• 11.40 a.m.: Patel calls DCP (zone IV) PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society fall, and speaks for 85 seconds. Seventy persons, including ex-Congress MP Ahsan Jaffri, were killed in Gulberg.

• 11.52 a.m.: Patel again calls DCP Gondia and this time speaks for 106 seconds.

• 11.55 a.m.: Patel calls Ashok Patel and speaks for 63 seconds.

• 12.01 p.m.: Ashok Patel calls back.

• 12.07 p.m.: Patel calls Ashok Patel and speaks for 71 seconds.

• 12.10 p.m.: Patel calls Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani, and speaks for 79 seconds.

• 12.20 p.m.: Patel calls DCP Gondia and speaks for 42 seconds.

• 12.25 p.m.: Patel returns to Naroda.

• 12.39 p.m.: Patel returns to Bapunagar area.

• 12.57 p.m.: Patel receives call from the cellphone being used by Babu Bajrangi.

• 1.00 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls Patel and speaks for 86 seconds.

• 1.17 p.m.: Bajrangi calls again.

• 1.19 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls.

• 1.23 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls again.

• 1.43 p.m.: Bipin Panchal calls again and speaks for 72 seconds.

• 3.25 p.m.: Patel receives a call from the chief minister’s office and speaks for 141 seconds.

• 7.20 p.m.: Patel receives a call from a cellphone registered in the name of Sanjay Bhavsar of the general administration department, government of Gujarat, and speaks for 102 seconds.

• 7.24 p.m.: Bhavsar calls again.

• 7.28 p.m.: Patel calls Bhavsar.

• 7.31 p.m.: For the first time in the day, Patel calls the CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande, and speaks for 47 seconds.

• 8.29 p.m.: Patel returns to Naroda area.

• 9.11 p.m.: Patel receives a call from Tanmay Mehta, personal assistant (PA) to the chief minister. The conversation lasts 209 seconds.

• 11.32 p.m.: State BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana, calls Patel and speaks for 13 seconds.

By midnight, senior police officers, including the JCP, MK Tandon, had reached Naroda Patiya. The massacre over, survivors were being moved to hospitals and relief camps hastily set up by the Muslim community at Shah Alam and Dariya Khan Gummat. Meanwhile, another massacre had also taken place in Gulberg Society. Union defence minister, George Fernandes, arrives in town. The death toll in Ahmedabad alone was 125 and counting.



Certain key questions arise:
  • Why was the home minister, Gordhan Zadaphiya, in touch with Jaideep Patel?
  • Why did the chief minister’s office contact Jaideep Patel?
  • Did the crime branch study the cellphone records before closing the case against Patel?
  • Will the review panel, set up at the behest of the Supreme Court, look into these records while scrutinising the 2,100 closed riot cases?

Maya Kodnani, BJP MLA, Naroda

Kodnani is a practising gynaecologist whose clinic is barely a kilometre from the site of the Naroda Patiya massacre. The BJP MLA from Naroda, Kodnani was also named in an FIR and her name was subsequently dropped as an accused when the FIRs were illegally clubbed. She was seen by eyewitnesses, leading and instructing mobs to attack, rape, kill and burn.

A study of Kodnani’s cellphone, which is still in use, reveals that like fellow accused and VHP leader Jaideep Patel, the BJP leader too had been camping in the Naroda area until the evening of February 28, 2002, and was in close contact with those accused in the massacre, police officers, top politicians and VHP leaders, including the brother of VHP international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, and other accused from the area.

The attacks in Naroda began at 11 a.m. and went on until 8 p.m.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of Maya Kodnani

February 28, 2002

• 7.53 a.m.: Kodnani leaves her residence for Gandhinagar.

• 9.57 a.m.: Kodnani returns from Gandhinagar and heads straight for Sola Civil Hospital.

• 10.37 a.m.: Kodnani calls the office of the ACP (G Division), MT Rana, under whose jurisdiction Naroda and Meghaninagar fall.

• 10.39 a.m.: Kodnani calls the official cellphone of the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, Rana’s immediate boss.

• 11.23 a.m.: Kodnani leaves Sola Civil Hospital.

• 11.55 a.m.: Kodnani is in Shahibaug area (where she lives) when she receives a call from Dinesh Togadia, brother of VHP leader, Praveen Togadia, and speaks for 128 seconds.

• 12.10 p.m.: VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel calls Kodnani. Patel was also named as an accused in the Naroda massacre until the case was closed by the police.

• 12.21 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Nimesh Patel, a resident of Saijapur Bogha area, adjoining the Naroda Patiya locality. Patel is one of those accused in the killing of eight persons at Naroda village. After the call, Kodnani heads towards Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Kodnani reaches Naroda.

• 12.40 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Kodnani.

• 2.10 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Sri Swami Vivekanand Karnavati Charitable Trust, Maninagar, and speaks for 134 seconds.

• 2.33 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from the official residence of state education minister, Anandiben Patel, in Gandhinagar.

• 2.53 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from the office of the chief whip of the BJP legislative party.

• 3.31 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Ashok Govind Patel of Naroda and speaks for 91 seconds. As mentioned earlier, the BJP corporator, Ashok Patel, was a co-accused in the same case as Jaideep Patel.

• 4.09 p.m.: Kodnani leaves Naroda area and heads for Shahibaug.

A study of Kodnani’s cellphone, which is still in use, reveals that like fellow accused and VHP leader Jaideep Patel, the BJP leader too had been camping in the Naroda area until the evening of February 28, 2002, and was in close contact with those accused in the massacre

• 4.52 p.m.: Kodnani calls the DCP (zone V), RJ Savani, under whose jurisdiction widespread violence was reported from Bapunagar, Odhav, Amraiwadi and Hatkeshwar areas.

• 4.53 p.m.: Kodnani calls DCP (zone VI), BS Jebalia, under whose jurisdiction riots were reported from Vatwa, Danilimda and Kagdapith areas.

• 4.55 p.m.: Kodnani calls the ACP (sector I), Shivanand Jha, whose jurisdiction encompasses the western areas of the city, the worst affected areas within his jurisdiction being Paldi, Vejalpur and Navrangpura.

• 5.01 p.m.: Kodnani receives a call from Delhi.

• 5.46 p.m.: State BJP president, Rajendrasinh Rana calls Kodnani.

• 7.03 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Kodnani.

According to the police FIR of the Naroda Patiya massacre and the Naroda killings, the attacks started at 11 a.m. and went on till 8 p.m.

Gulberg Society, Chamanpura, Meghaninagar, Ahmedabad

At about 7 a.m. on February 28, 2002, a mob started to attack the predominantly minority inhabited Gulberg Society, barely a few kilometres from the police commissionerate. The onslaught lasted over nine hours during which about 70 persons were massacred and 15 women were gang-raped. Former parliamentarian from the Congress party, Ahsan Jaffri, was among those killed. Jaffri made over 200 calls to top leaders, seeking help. No one responded. The then CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande visited Jaffri at around 10.30 a.m. and convinced him not to seek refuge elsewhere along with the 70 other Muslims who had sought shelter in his home. The attack intensified after Pande had left.

As DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia was the DCP in charge of both areas – Meghaninagar and Naroda – which together marked the most horrific day in the post-Godhra violence. Gondia’s cellphone records show that he spent a lot of time in areas outside his jurisdiction which reported little violence. They also show that he was in constant touch with the riot accused, including Nimesh Patel, who is accused in the Naroda killings. He was also in touch with accused, Jaideep Patel, VHP’s Gujarat general secretary and local BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani, and state revenue minister, Haren Pandya.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of DCP PB Gondia

February 28, 2002

• 10.39 a.m.: Just as DCP PB Gondia, reaches Naroda area, he receives a call from Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani. The call lasts 57 seconds.

• 11.05 a.m.: Gondia calls the JCP, MK Tandon’s office.

• 11.40 a.m.: Gondia, who is in Thakkarnagar, near Naroda, receives a call from VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel – who was accused of leading a mob in Naroda – and speaks for 86 seconds.

• 11.52 a.m.: Jaideep Patel calls again. They speak for 107 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Gondia calls Tandon and immediately moves to Naroda area.

• 12.20 p.m.: Jaideep Patel calls Gondia and speaks to him for 42 seconds.

• 12.35 p.m.: Gondia is in Meghaninagar area (Gulberg Society) and returns to Naroda by 12.53 p.m.

• 12.59 p.m.: Gondia calls the city police control room.

• Gondia remains in Naroda area till 1.44 p.m. At 1.53 p.m. he is in Meghaninagar area but leaves immediately and returns to Naroda. On the way, at 1.57 p.m., he receives a call from Tandon.

• 2.13 p.m.: Gondia is again in Meghaninagar area from where he calls Nimesh Patel, an accused in the Naroda village killings. Fifteen minutes later Gondia is in Naroda.

• 2.46 p.m.: Gondia returns to Meghaninagar and calls ACP MT Rana. Within five minutes, he leaves for the police commissionerate and reaches there by 2.55 p.m.

• 3.01 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 3.11 p.m.: Gondia has left the police commissionerate and heads for Revdi Bazaar, an area which does not fall under his jurisdiction, where little violence has been reported.

• 3.16 p.m.: Gondia receives calls from the CP, PC Pande.

• Gondia remains at Revdi Bazaar until 4.03 p.m. and at 4.12 reaches Meghaninagar area.

• 5.05 p.m.: Gondia receives a call from the residence of Naroda BJP MLA, Maya Kodnani. The call lasts 81 seconds. Gondia is in Meghaninagar area.

• 5.15 p.m.: ACP Rana calls Gondia and speaks to him for 101 seconds.

• 5.24 p.m. and 5.29 p.m.: Gondia receives calls from the official residence of the revenue minister, Haren Pandya.

• 6.55 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 10.06 p.m.: Gondia goes to Naroda area.

• 10.10 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

State role

Cellphone records fill in the missing blanks. They show that the Ahmedabad police commissioner, PC Pande received several calls from the chief minister’s office throughout the day and in the hours leading up to their meeting. Who kept calling? Narendra Modi’s PA, Tanmay Mehta, and Modi’s additional principal secretary, Anil Mukim.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of the CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande

February 27, 2002

• 8.53 a.m. (within an hour of the Godhra train arson): Pande, who is at his residence, receives a call from the state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya.

• 11.05 a.m.: Pande is at his office and receives a call from the DGP, K. Chakravarti.

• 11.38 a.m.: Chakravarti calls again.

• 12.48 p.m.: Chakravarti calls again.

• 1.08 p.m.: Pande calls the Ahmedabad district collector, K. Srinivas.

• 1.53 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande and speaks for 109 seconds.

• 2.59 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Tanmay Mehta, Narendra Modi’s PA.

• 3.35 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the chief minister’s additional principal secretary, Anil Mukim.

• 3.36 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mehta. Half a minute later, Mukim calls again.

• 3.40 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 3.50 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 5.02 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mukim. He returns the call after a minute.

• 5.28 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 107 seconds.

• 6.03 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Mumbai and speaks for 154 seconds.

• 7.09 p.m.: Pande calls Mukim and speaks for 83 seconds.

• At 7.48 p.m. and 8.14 p.m.: Pande receives two calls from K. Srinivas.

• 8.26 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Sanjay Bhavsar, officer on special duty (OSD) to the chief minister.

• 9.13. p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 52 seconds.

• 9.18 p.m. and 9.19 p.m.: Pande receives calls from Zadaphiya.

• 9.42 p.m.: Pande has left the city for Gandhinagar and is half way there.

February 28, 2002

• 12.35 a.m.: Pande returns from Gandhinagar and heads straight for his office. He stays there until about one a.m.

• 8.12 a.m.: Pande is back in office and receives a call from Chakravarti.

• 8.50 a.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti.

• 9.30 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 126 seconds.

• 9.44 a.m.: Pande receives a call from the JCP (sector II), MK Tandon. Three minutes later, Pande is on his way to Sola Civil Hospital.

• 10.56 a.m.: Pande returns to the police commissionerate.

• 11.05 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande. By this time mobs have taken to the streets. According to police records, the attack on Gulberg Society began at 7 a.m. while in Naroda Patiya it began at 11 a.m.

• 11.31 a.m.: Pande receives a call from Zadaphiya’s office.

• 11.40 a.m.: Tanmay Mehta, Narendra Modi’s PA, calls Pande.

• 11.43 a.m.: Pande receives a call from Tandon, who has already reached Meghaninagar area (where Gulberg Society is located).

• 11.56 a.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls Tandon and speaks for 75 seconds. Three minutes after this call, Tandon leaves Meghaninagar.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande. By this time curfew has been imposed in the city.

• 1.21 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 1.45 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 1.56 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the office of state minister for water supply, Narottam Patel, and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 2.53 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 3.09 p.m.: Pande receives a call from city MLA and state health minister, Ashok Bhatt.

• 3.16 p.m.: Pande calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya localities fall.

• 3.22 p.m.: Pande receives a call from city MLA and state energy minister, Kaushik Patel, and speaks for 60 seconds.

• 3.38 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.54 p.m.: Pande calls Gondia.

• 3.57 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.59 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande. Minutes later, Chakravarti is at Pande’s office.

• 5.16 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Zadaphiya, who has just left the police commissionerate.

• 5.17 p.m.: Pande receives a call from a cellphone registered in the name of AP Patel, general administration department, government of Gujarat.

• 5.50 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 6.31 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the official residence of Ashok Bhatt and speaks for 232 seconds.

• 6.51 p.m.: Pande receives a call from Chakravarti, who is by then at Gandhinagar.

• 7.09 p.m.: Pande reaches Meghaninagar area.

• 7.11 p.m.: Zadaphiya calls Pande.

• 7.26 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 7.31 p.m.: Pande receives a call from VHP leader and riot accused, Jaideep Patel. Pande leaves Meghaninagar area and goes back to his office.

• 8.52 p.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti and speaks for 110 seconds.

• 9.03 p.m.: Pande calls Anil Mukim, the chief minister’s additional principal secretary, and speaks for 229 seconds.

• 9.14 p.m.: Mukim calls Pande.

• 9.18 p.m.: Pande calls Chakravarti and speaks for 334 seconds.

• 10.27 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

Pande’s memory loss before the commission

Deposing before the Nanavati-Shah Commission on August 18, 2004, former CP, Ahmedabad city, PC Pande said he only heard about the Naroda Patiya violence at 9.30 p.m. on February 28, 2002, when "I received information that some persons had been killed there". And it was only when he went there at around 10 or 11 p.m. that he realised the "gravity" of the situation.

However, by 9.30 p.m., the Naroda massacre was long over. Eighty-three persons had already been killed and Pande’s cellphone records show that right through the afternoon, from 2.30 to 9 p.m., he was, in fact, in regular touch with two police officers in charge of the areas under which both Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society fall.

During the last half hour of the massacre at Naroda, Pande even received a call from VHP state general secretary and riot accused, Jaideep Patel. Nevertheless, in his deposition before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Pande said that he had not been "receiving any information regarding the serious incidents which followed after 2.30 p.m.".

Another point on which Pande claimed memory loss was the meeting called by the chief minister, Narendra Modi, on the night of the Godhra arson, hours after the VHP and the BJP had declared a bandh for the next day.

Lies before the commission

Joint CP (sector II), Ahmedabad, MK Tandon, who was in charge of areas that saw the worst two massacres, told the Nanavati-Shah Commission that he only heard about the attack on Gulberg Society at 2 p.m. on February 28. This was a massacre in which 70 people were killed, many of them burnt alive, including former Congress MP, Ahsan Jaffri. "I was not present when the mob was being dispersed as I had gone near the Gulberg Society at about 10.45 a.m. and then had gone to Naroda. I was in Naroda at about 12 p.m.," he deposed.

However, records of Tandon’s official cellphone reveal that between 11.34 a.m. and 12.09 p.m., he was in the Meghaninagar area (where Gulberg Society is).

From Meghaninagar, records show, he called up the DCP in charge of the area and the CP, PC Pande. (The attacks on Gulberg Society began at about 7 a.m. on February 28. Top police officers maintain however that they began much later, at about 10.30 that morning.)

He also told the commission that he only heard about the Naroda Patiya massacre at 9.30 p.m. "I do not know when the mob entered this Muslim locality and I also do not know if the police officials present on the spot tried to contact me during this time. I think that during this time, the telephone lines were jammed. I first came to know about this incident (Naroda Patiya) at 9.30 p.m. when I was in the Gulberg Society and immediately rushed there," he said.

But his cellphone details reveal that he was constantly in touch with the police officers who were in direct charge of the riot hit areas, and the police control room called him at least four times between 1.24 p.m. and 3.01 p.m.

Excerpts from the cellphone records of JCP (sector II) MK Tandon

February 27, 2002

• 9.50 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 10.05 a.m.: Tandon calls the police control room.

• 10.08 a.m.: Tandon again calls the police control room.

• 10.09 a.m.: Tandon calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia. Immediately, he receives a call from the DCP (zone V), RJ Savani.

• 10.11 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from the DCP (zone VI), BS Jebalia.

• 10.12 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 10.17 a.m.: ACP MT Rana calls Tandon.

• 11.31 a.m.: Tandon reaches the commissionerate and calls Savani and speaks for 70 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 160 seconds.

• 12.16 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon again.

• 12.57 p.m.: Tandon calls Jebalia.

• 12.58 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani and speaks for 128 seconds.

• 2.59 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 3.18 p.m.: Tandon calls Jebalia.

• 3.49 p.m.: Tandon again calls Jebalia and speaks for 84 seconds. Minutes later, Tandon leaves the commissionerate and goes to Revdi Bazaar, a communally sensitive area.

• 4.02 p.m.: Jebalia calls Tandon.

• 4.22 p.m.: Jebalia calls Tandon.

• 4.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani. Tandon goes to the New Cloth Market where the office of the DCP (zone VI) (BS Jebalia) is also situated.

• 4.39 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani.

• 5.20 p.m.: Tandon calls the CP, PC Pande and speaks for 104 seconds. Tandon leaves and heads towards Bapunagar and Naroda areas.

• 5.49 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani.

• 5.57 p.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 6.05 p.m.: Rana calls Tandon. Tandon is in Rakhial area.

• 6.46 p.m.: Tandon reaches Bapunagar and receives a call from Rana.

• 6.59 p.m.: Tandon reaches the Naroda area and calls Gondia.

• 7.17 p.m.: Tandon returns to the commissionerate.

• 8.42 p.m.: Tandon calls Savani and speaks for 232 seconds.

• 8.55 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon.

• 9.34 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 481 seconds.

• 10.32 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 100 seconds.

February 28, 2002

• 12.00 a.m.: Savani calls Tandon. Tandon immediately calls up then state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya, and speaks for 133 seconds.

• Three minutes later, Savani calls Tandon and speaks for 96 seconds.

• 6.49 a.m.: Tandon receives a call from Delhi and speaks for 126 seconds.

• An hour later, Tandon speaks to his three DCPs, Gondia, Savani and Jebalia, at length.

• Between 9.20 a.m. and 9.36 a.m. Tandon speaks at length with Savani and Jebalia and then speaks to the CP, PC Pande.

• 11.20 a.m.: Tandon calls ACP MT Rana of Meghaninagar and Naroda areas.

• 11.34 a.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar (where Gulberg Society is) and calls Gondia, under whose jurisdiction both the areas fall. Ten minutes later, he calls the CP and then makes two successive calls to the city police control room.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls Tandon. Three minutes later Tandon leaves Meghaninagar area.

• 12.11 p.m.: Tandon reaches Naroda area.

DCP PB Gondia was in charge of both areas – Meghaninagar and Naroda – which together marked the most horrific day in the post-Godhra violence. Gondia’s cellphone records show that he spent a lot of time in areas outside his jurisdiction which reported little violence. They also show that he was in constant touch with the riot accused

• Between 12.14 p.m. and 12.18 p.m. Tandon makes three calls to Pande. At 12.26 p.m. he makes one call to the police control room.

• 12.33 p.m.: Savani calls Tandon, after which Tandon leaves Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 12.41 p.m.: Tandon calls Rana. Tandon is travelling through Bapunagar, Rakhial, and reaches Relief Road at 1.56 p.m. Tandon remains in the Relief Road and Revdi Bazaar areas until about 4 p.m.

• While Tandon is not in any of the riot hit areas within his jurisdiction, his cellphone details reveal he was constantly in touch with the DCPs, Gondia, Savani and Jebalia, the police control room, the CP, PC Pande and the city mayor, Himmatsinh Patel, during this time. The police control room called him at least four times between 1.24 p.m. and 3.01 p.m.

• 4.12 p.m.: Tandon reaches the police commissionerate.

• 4.28 p.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar area (Gulberg Society).

• 10.14 p.m.: Tandon visits Naroda area and leaves by 11.03 p.m.

Meanwhile, what did the police do when Jaffri was desperate for help?

Excerpts of the cellphone records of officers Pande, Tandon and Gondia have been deliberately repeated below to demonstrate how the calls made and received by them dovetail with those of other officers during the specific period when Ahsan Jaffri was so desperately seeking police assistance.

DGP K. Chakravarti:


• 11.56 p.m.: Chakravarti calls the CP, PC Pande, and speaks for 56 seconds.

• 12.18 p.m.: Chakravarti is in Gandhinagar; receives a call from the Ahmedabad district collector, K. Srinivas, and speaks for 59 seconds.

• 1.06 p.m.: Srinivas calls Chakravarti.

• 1.43 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 1.48 p.m.: Chakravarti receives a call from Badruddin Sheikh (Congress leader and then chairperson, standing committee, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation) and speaks for 91 seconds.

• 2.01 p.m.: Sheikh calls Chakravarti again.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande and speaks for 49 seconds.

• 3.50 p.m.: Chakravarti reaches the city and calls his office in Gandhinagar. (Jaffri is suspected to be dead by this time.)

• 3.51 p.m.: Chakravarti receives a call from the ADGP (law & order) and speaks for 132 seconds.

• 3.55 p.m.: Chakravarti reaches Shahibaug and calls Pande.

CP, PC Pande

• 11.56 p.m.: DGP Chakravarti calls Pande.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande calls JCP MK Tandon and speaks for 75 seconds.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande. By this time, curfew has been imposed in the city.

• 1.21 p.m.: Tanmay Mehta, Modi’s PA, calls Pande.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande again.

• 1.45 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande again and speaks for 116 seconds.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande for the third time and speaks for 125 seconds.

• 2.12 p.m.: Chakravarti calls Pande for the third time.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande again.

• 2.53 p.m.: Pande receives a call from state minister of state for home, Gordhan Zadaphiya.

• 3.09 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the state health minister, Ashok Bhatt.

• 3.16 p.m.: Pande calls the DCP (zone IV), PB Gondia, under whose jurisdiction the Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya localities fall.

• 3.38 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande.

• 3.54 p.m.: Pande calls Gondia.

• 3.57 p.m.: Mehta calls Pande again.

• 3.59 p.m.: Pande receives a fourth call from Chakravarti, who reaches Pande’s office minutes later.

Deposing before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, Pande said Jaffri was killed between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Joint CP MK Tandon

• 11.58 a.m.: Tandon calls police control room and speaks for 68 seconds. Has reached Meghaninagar, where Gulberg Society is, at 11.34 a.m.

• 12.06 p.m.: Pande receives a call from the CP, PC Pande. Three minutes later, Tandon leaves Meghaninagar area.

• 12.11 p.m.: Tandon reaches Naroda area.

• 12.14-12.18 p.m.: Makes three calls to Pande and one to the police control room at 12.26 p.m.

• 12.33 p.m.: Tandon leaves Naroda.

• 12.37 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande.

• 12.41 p.m.: Tandon reaches Bapunagar and calls ACP MT Rana, under whose jurisdiction Meghaninagar and Naroda fall.

• 1.06 p.m.: Tandon calls DCP PB Gondia and speaks for 60 seconds. He is then in Rakhial.

• 1.11 p.m.: Tandon calls the city mayor, Himmatsinh Patel, and speaks for 78 seconds.

• 1.22 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 54 seconds.

• 1.24 p.m.: Tandon receives a call from the police control room.

• 1.51 p.m.: Tandon reaches Revdi Bazaar and Relief Road.

• 1.57 p.m.: Tandon calls Gondia and speaks for 98 seconds.

• 1.59 p.m.: Tandon receives another call from the police control room.

• 2.02 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 124 seconds.

• 2.25 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 51 seconds.

• 2.52 p.m.: Tandon calls Himmatsinh Patel and speaks for 145 seconds.

• 2.57 p.m.: Tandon receives a third call from the police control room.

• 3.01 p.m.: Tandon receives a fourth call from the police control room.

• 3.30 p.m.: Tandon calls Pande and speaks for 72 seconds.

• 3.39 p.m.: Tandon receives a fifth call from the police control room.

• 3.40 p.m.: Tandon calls his office number at the police commissionerate.

• 4.12 p.m.: Tandon reaches the commissionerate.

• 4.28 p.m.: Tandon reaches Meghaninagar area.

DCP PB Gondia

• 11.52 a.m.: Gondia receives a call from VHP general secretary and riot accused, Jaideep Patel, and speaks for 107 seconds.

• 11.56 a.m.: Gondia calls JCP MK Tandon, moves to Naroda area.

• 12.20 p.m.: Jaideep Patel calls again and speaks for 42 seconds.

• 12.35 p.m.: Gondia is in Meghaninagar area, returns to Naroda by 12.53 p.m.

• 12.59 p.m.: Gondia calls the police control room.

• Gondia remains in Naroda area till 1.44 p.m.

At 1.53 p.m. Gondia is in Meghaninagar but returns to Naroda almost immediately. On the way, at 1.57 p.m., he receives a call from Tandon.

• 2.13 p.m.: Gondia is back in Meghaninagar from where he calls Nimesh Patel, an accused in the Naroda killings. Fifteen minutes later, Gondia is in Naroda.

• 2.46 p.m.: Gondia returns to Meghaninagar, calls ACP Rana. Within five minutes, he leaves for the police commissionerate, reaches by 2.55 p.m.

• 3.01 p.m.: Nimesh Patel calls Gondia.

• 3.11 p.m.: Leaves the police commissionerate but heads for Revdi Bazaar from where little violence has been reported.

• 3.16 p.m.: Gondia receives a call from the CP, PC Pande.

• Gondia remains at Revdi Bazaar till 4.03 and at 4.12 p.m. reaches Meghaninagar area.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, State Complicity 5

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Sabrang

Truth and the Nanavati-Shah Commission

01 Jul 2007

Courtesy: Javed Raja, Indian Express

In addition to about 3,500 affidavits relating to issues of loss of life and damage filed by victim survivors before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, senior police officers in Gujarat  have also filed their affidavits before the public commission of enquiry. An analysis of the latter tells its own two-pronged tale. On the one hand we see stoic courage in the face of adversity from a handful of officers who have laid bare the nitty-gritty of state connivance and planning not to mention several subsequent attempts at subverting the truth. In stark contrast are the testimonies by the majority of officers, many of whom assisted the government in whitewashing its dastardly role in and after the genocide of 2002.

The Gujarat government first announced the establishment of a commission of enquiry to probe the Godhra and post-Godhra carnage in March 2002. The initial announcement itself was seen as a partisan act. In its first official announcement on the matter, the state government declared that the commission would be headed by a single judge, Justice KG Shah, a man whose secular credentials were already somewhat suspect. The appointment of a single judge to investigate a volatile issue in a lawless state, one moreover who had been suspected of biased conduct in previous matters related to communal violence in Gujarat, led to nationwide protests that ultimately forced the government to modify its decision. Justice GT Nanavati’s inclusion on the enquiry panel was a corrective step.

The Modi government’s partisan approach was also reflected in the declaration of two distinct and discriminatory compensation packages for the families of victims who had died in the Godhra fire and those who had been massacred thereafter. Under the Gujarat government’s original plan, the families of victims of the Godhra train fire were to receive Rs two lakh each while the families of those who had died in the post-Godhra violence would receive Rs one lakh – half the amount. Protests finally corrected this blatant discrimination.

Cocooned in the warmth of political family – the parivar ruling at the Centre – the Modi government had announced the commission’s first terms of reference excluding the role of the chief minister, his cabinet, top bureaucrats and policemen from scrutiny. Two years later, the NDA’s unexpected rout in the national elections made the chief minister jittery. In July 2004, not long after the UPA government took charge, Modi hastily expanded the commission’s terms of reference. The step was a pre-emptive one in the event that the new government decided to institute a central government commission to probe the 2002 carnage or worse, lodge an FIR against Narendra Modi!

Thus the second terms of reference of the Nanavati-Shah Commission, issued under a government notification dated July 20, 2004, requested the commission to enquire into "the role and conduct of the then chief minister (Narendra Modi) or any other ministers in his council of ministers, police officers, other individuals and organisations" relating "to the facts, circumstances and course of events of the subsequent incidents in the aftermath of the Godhra incidents".

Even after the commission’s terms of reference were expanded and the enquiry necessitated a detailed scrutiny of their actions, Modi and his officials have done their best to subvert its proceedings. A majority of the key players in the planning and execution of the carnage and subsequent attempts to subvert the process of justice have not filed their second affidavits before the commission under its new terms of reference.

Specific directives by the then DGP, AK Bhargava, through his letters dated September 16 and 29, 2004, instructing all police officers who had filed their first affidavits under the commission’s initial terms of reference to also submit affidavits under the second terms of reference, were ignored. In fact, Bhargava’s orders even stated that it was the duty of the current incumbent in a post to ensure that his predecessor had filed the second affidavit.

The chief secretary is the bridge, the key link between the political echelons of government and the bureaucracy, including the police. He is thus a crucial player who could provide a critical account of events relating to that period of time. Strangely, however, the former chief secretary, G. Subbarao, has not filed any affidavits before the commission so far.

Evidence placed before the commission is unambiguous. And the absence of statements under oath, from key officials of the bureaucracy and the police, revealing. The affidavit and testimony of Rahul Sharma, SP, Bhavnagar, in 2002, is a telling account of the pressures faced by an upright officer of the law who beat down the efforts by fanatical elements to attack a boarding school that housed over 400 Muslim children and burn them alive. Data that Sharma subsequently revealed before the commission in 2004 included mobile phone records of incriminating calls made and received by policemen between February 28 and March 5, 2002.

The first affidavit, filed in July 2002, documents the assiduous attempts by the State Intelligence Bureau to warn of the consequences of the rabid communal mobilisation undertaken by cadres of the BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal on their way to Ayodhya

Sreekumar’s four magnum affidavits represent the persistent efforts of a police officer to document the dark reality behind the violence of 2002 and its aftermath. They reveal the role of intelligence agencies in the build-up to the Godhra incident and the genocide of 2002, and the response of the political class, policemen and bureaucrats. If his personal register is a gripping narrative of the Gujarat administration’s barefaced acts of collusion and subversion, his affidavits are substantive revelations of official records of the time.

But Sreekumar’s tireless efforts to expose the truth, his courage, came at a price. His affidavits before the commission not only cost him an important promotion, he was and continues to be hounded and harassed by a vindictive administration. Even so, the Nanavati-Shah Commission has not intervened with any orders that could protect this officer from persistent onslaught. Sreekumar has only suffered for telling the truth before this public body, for upholding Section 6 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. In light of this, the commission’s silence on the issue is particularly telling and raises serious doubts about the enquiry’s eventual outcome.

Role of state intelligence

The four affidavits filed by RB Sreekumar before the Nanavati-Shah Commission between 2002 and 2005 record startling details of sheer brazenness and collusion. The first affidavit, filed in July 2002, documents the assiduous attempts by the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) to warn of the consequences of the rabid communal mobilisation undertaken by cadres of the BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal on their way to Ayodhya. Sreekumar has stated that the SIB issued regular warnings about the likely threats to public peace that could be expected because of unruly mobilisation by communal outfits. It was the executive wing of the police – influenced no doubt by Modi, key cabinet colleagues and the top echelons of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), including the chief secretary, G. Subbarao, and the principal secretary to the chief minister, PK Mishra – who simply did not translate these into strict directives for preventive action. The then DGP, K. Chakravarti issued no special instructions for the maintenance of law and order and no strict instructions on how mobs should be dealt with.

The affidavit also records a significant aspect of the post-Godhra genocidal violence in Ahmedabad, one of the areas worst affected by the violence. The attacks in Ahmedabad did not take place in communally sensitive areas and ghettos but in areas where minority communities live(d) in isolation surrounded by Hindus.

In para 17 of his first affidavit, Sreekumar states that as far back as February 13, 2002, in response to a message received from the inspector general (IG) (CI) of the UP intelligence department in Lucknow, the SIB in Gujarat requested the superintendents of police from all districts and commissioners of police from all cities and towns in Gujarat to: "inform the SP, Faizabad, about the movement of kar sevaks from their respective jurisdictions. Following this missive (the) SP, Western Railways, Baroda had informed (the) IGP (communal intelligence), UP, Lucknow, through his fax message…dated February 16, 2002 that Prahlad J. Patel, president of Bajrang Dal, Mehsana, would be leading a group of 150-200 Bajrang Dal activists of Mehsana for the Ayodhya Maha Yagna by 9165 DN Sabarmati Express on February 22, 2002. It was also mentioned in the said fax message that the Bajrang Dal activists travelling to Ayodhya would be carrying trishuls with them. Similarly, SP, Mehsana, also sent a…message to IGP (communal intelligence), intelligence department, Lucknow, UP…dated February 19, 2002, stating, among other things, that a group of 150 Ram bhakts armed with trishuls would be leaving Ahmedabad by train for Ayodhya on February 22, 2002 under the leadership of Prahlad Jayantibhai Patel, president, Bajrang Dal, Mehsana and would be arriving at Ayodhya on February 24, 2002."

It was some of these kar sevaks who, on their return journey from Ayodhya, became victims of the Godhra arson incident on February 27, 2002, and this has also been mentioned in the affidavit.

Failure of central intelligence

Sreekumar’s first affidavit also records the utter failure of both the UP state intelligence department and the central Intelligence Bureau (IB) to forewarn local authorities about the kar sevaks’ movements. In para 18, Sreekumar states that: "It is pertinent to note that there was no intimation from (the) intelligence branch of UP police or central Intelligence Bureau, which has an extensive nationwide network to collect intelligence on developments relevant to internal security, about the return journey of these ram sevaks who had gone to Ayodhya." (It is perhaps significant to note that during this period, while the BJP-led NDA coalition ruled at the Centre, in UP it was Rajnath Singh’s BJP government that was in power until March 8, 2002, following which president’s rule was imposed in the state.)

There was also no information from the central IB or any inputs from any other agency about the possible attack on Ram sevaks returning from Ayodhya by fundamentalist and militant elements among the minority community or other antisocial elements. Worse, in para 19, Sreekumar records that the UP police did not inform the Gujarat state intelligence department or the police about the unruly behaviour of Ram sevaks on their return journey even though there had been an altercation between some Ram sevaks and Muslims when the latter tried to board the train at Rudauli railway station in UP at around 9 a.m. on February 24, 2002. A note dated February 27, 2002, addressed to all DGPs of the country from the IG, intelligence department, UP, about the return journey of ram sevaks, was received a day later, post facto, at 8.15 a.m. on February 28 – that is, after the arson incident on the Sabarmati Express took place.


Courtesy: AP

In this connection, Sreekumar states that: "Though there were intelligence inputs pertaining to the movements of kar sevaks to Ayodhya from Gujarat state, there was no specific information about the return of kar sevaks from Ayodhya, from (the) UP police or central Intelligence Bureau, which has the onerous responsibility of timely forewarning the law enforcement officers in the state about nationwide or interstate emerging trends so that suitable precautionary countermeasures can be taken. The only message about the return of kar sevaks sent by the Uttar Pradesh police was received (by the) Gujarat police only on February 28 i.e. after the incident on February 27, 2002. No intelligence input either from the Government Railway Police (GRP), the Godhra district LIB or central intelligence was available about the possibility of any conspiracy or planning by Muslim militants or any antisocial elements to attack or cause harm to the Ram bhakts returning from Ayodhya. The only intelligence received from the GRP indicated that the Ram bhakts, led by Prahlad J. Patel, president of Bajrang Dal, Mehsana, (were) to start from Ayodhya on February 26, 2002 at night and return to Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002."

Maintenance of internal security is a fundamental if unwritten component of the central Intelligence Bureau’s charter of duties. And this is precisely what the central IB so singularly failed to do. In not providing advance preventive intelligence with regard to the Godhra incident and its aftermath, the bureau compromised internal security and put thousands of people in mortal danger.

Standard IB practice and procedure requires that whenever there are nationwide activities involving large numbers of organised groups, such as the communal mobilisation of kar sevaks, IB agents travel with these contingents. Through the detailed analysis provided in RB Sreekumar’s first affidavit it appears that this procedure was not followed in the case of kar sevaks travelling from Gujarat to Ayodhya in February 2002. If this procedure had been followed, the Gujarat police and intelligence network would have been alerted to the belligerent behaviour of the kar sevaks, their altercation with vendors and others at railway stations, their return to Gujarat a day earlier than scheduled and other related information. Sreekumar’s affidavit states that the central IB did not provide such intelligence to the local police. This ruled out any likelihood of the Gujarat police arranging effective police deployment at railway stations on the kar sevaks’ route.

However, given the communal mobilisation that had been under way from early February 2002, the absence of any deployment of army or paramilitary forces in Godhra, a communally sensitive spot, was conspicuous and even suspicious. This is a task that rests with the state’s home ministry. CC’s "Genocide – Gujarat 2002" issue carried interviews with former officers of the Indian army who have, in the past, been deployed at Godhra in far less tense situations and who expressed outrage that inadequate troops had been deployed there.

Sreekumar’s first affidavit also reveals that the SIB had alerted all police commissioners and SPs in all districts of Gujarat to take precautionary steps to prevent likely communal clashes in their jurisdictions. In effect, it was the perverse will of the chief minister, imposed through a supine bureaucracy and top police leadership, which disregarded systematic warnings from its own intelligence bureau. The SIB had sent out as many as three separate notes in this regard on February 27, 2002 itself. In addition to these messages, on February 27, specific information was also sent to the CP, Ahmedabad city, about the VHP’s call for a Gujarat bandh (on February 28) to protest against the Godhra train burning and a meeting being held by the organisation in that connection at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

The affidavit also records that these warnings continued, unheeded. Even after the initial outbreak of genocidal violence, the SIB periodically provided specific data to jurisdictional police, particularly to the CP, Ahmedabad city, where incidents of communal violence persisted. For instance, a written report dated April 15, 2002 was sent to the CP, Ahmedabad, by the ADGP (int.), informing him about the move by extremist and fundamentalist elements among Muslims to resist large-scale house-to-house search operations ("combing") conducted by the police. The same missive also warned of the plan by radical Hindu elements to organise a major assault in Juhapura, a predominantly Muslim colony. In another despatch to the CP, Ahmedabad city, dated April 26, 2002, the SIB provided information on (1) The plan by Bajrang Dal leaders to distribute lethal weapons (2) The migration of Muslim families from certain areas in Ahmedabad city (3) The plan by Islamic militants from within and outside the country to distribute sophisticated weapons to local Muslim militants.

The central IB unit in Gujarat is called the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Ahmedabad. Strangely, it was Rajendra Kumar, the then joint director, central IB, (Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Ahmedabad), who, within hours of the train arson, came out with the theory of an ‘ISI conspiracy’ behind the Godhra incident. On the afternoon of February 27, 2002 itself, the then DGP, K. Chakravarti had informed Sreekumar that Rajendra Kumar had advised and even tried to persuade the DGP to pursue investigations into the Godhra incident along those lines.

During the course of that year, in personal conversations with Sreekumar too, Rajendra Kumar repeatedly stressed the urgent need for the Gujarat police to collect evidence that would prove the ISI conspiracy angle. When Sreekumar questioned the basis of the conspiracy theory, Kumar could not provide any sound and acceptable material to substantiate it. Curiously, Kumar did not send any formal reports, from the central IB to the state IB, containing inputs on the genesis, course and perpetration of the ISI conspiracy and the persons involved in it. Senior BJP leaders, supported by bureaucrats like the secretary (law & order), GC Murmu, and officers like Rajendra Kumar, were hell-bent on projecting an unsubstantiated ‘ISI conspiracy angle’ without furnishing details or proof.

It is significant to note that other senior officers of the SIB who met Gill on May 10, 2002 and presented their own assessments of the scenario concurred with ADGP Sreekumar’s assessment of the situation

Interestingly, on March 28, 2002, as significant political moves were afoot to project an ISI conspiracy behind the Godhra tragedy, a ‘secret’ fax message (signed by GK Naicker, section officer, home department) was received from the union home ministry, suggesting "counter-aggression by radical Muslim youth organised by the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) in Juhapura" and that the administration was not dealing firmly with these developments.

It has been reliably deduced that the collusion between the central NDA and Modi’s government extended to hand-picking key officials for key postings before the carnage. Rajendra Kumar and Narendra Modi were old friends. The two men grew close when Rajendra Kumar, an officer from the Indian Police Service (IPS)’s Manipur Tripura cadre, was posted at the central IB in Chandigarh and Modi, as BJP secretary, was in charge of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir during the 1990s. Within the Gujarat administration it is widely believed that Rajendra Kumar also played a key role in guiding and even prompting former DCP of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, DG Vanzara, to organise the ‘elimination’ of several Muslims from late 2002 onwards. Rajendra Kumar was also instrumental in having many Muslim youth arrested under POTA and instituting cases against them through the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. Some of these cases were discharged by the court for want of evidence before they reached trial.

Although it is the central IB that is responsible for reporting on internal security, Rajendra Kumar, as joint director, central IB, has not filed any affidavits before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. This amounts to a significant abdication of duty. It is especially significant given the fact that the IB has filed affidavits before other commissions investigating other catastrophes in the past, including the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and so on. Not surprisingly, when on September 6, 2005 the Gujarat government served a charge sheet on RB Sreekumar, Rajendra Kumar, who is currently joint director, IB, at the IB headquarters in New Delhi, under the UPA’s home ministry, offered to be a witness on behalf of the state government!

RB Sreekumar filed his second affidavit before the commission in October 2004, after the commission’s terms of reference had been expanded. This document contains a minefield of information especially with regard to the internal discussions held with KPS Gill, former DGP, Punjab, who was brought in by the NDA regime to ‘bring normalcy to Gujarat’. The affidavit records the first meeting with the ‘supercop’ on May 4, 2002, at which, in keeping with their proclamations to the world, blatant attempts were made by the chief secretary and principal secretary to suggest that ‘normalcy’ had indeed returned to Gujarat. A few officers present at the meeting, including ADGP Maniram and Sreekumar himself, contradicted this by presenting the true picture. They also offered their suggestions on what could be done to improve the status quo. Among other things, Sreekumar gave Gill a copy of the report on Ahmedabad and other communally sensitive areas that he had prepared. His "Analysis of the Communal Situation" dated April 24, 2002, carried with it an unsigned note containing certain points of action that could be implemented to defuse the communally explosive situation.

The suggestions included: "(1) Restoration of the faith of the public, particularly the minorities, in the criminal justice system (2) Replacement of the present incumbents in executive posts at the cutting edge level from those places where the police did not act conscientiously during the riots (3) Effective action to unearth stock of arms and booking of criminal and communal elements of both majority and minority communities (4) Action through non-political spiritual and religious leaders to de-communalise those under the spell of fundamentalist/extremist sections (5) Action at the social level to bring together both communities by proliferating interaction at various facets (6) Action against radical groups (7) Measures to improve the security ambience in the riot affected areas for facilitating the refugees to go back to their pre-riot residential areas (8) Purposeful legal action against publication and distribution of pamphlets/ handbills, etc/reports in the vernacular press, etc fomenting animosity between different groups on grounds of religion."

The report also warned that alarming tendencies could grow and flourish (within the minorities) if such measures were not taken.

Unsurprisingly, Chief Minister Modi’s personal intervention after this report was recorded and circulated (on May 7, 2002; see accompanying article, "Badge of Honour") and ‘supercop’ Gill’s succumbing to political pressure (May 8, 2002) thwarted constructive suggestions from policemen like Maniram and Sreekumar. Gill, in fact, even ‘instructed’ policemen not to try and reform politicians.

Sreekumar’s second affidavit records that, at this time, the SIB had also issued detailed communications (through this report) on signs that the Gujarat police should watch out for: i) some information that about a dozen communal elements from the minority community were trying to instigate violence (May 2, 2002); similar attempts were being made by minority communal elements in the Panigate area of Vadodara (May 4, 2002); likelihood of violence in the Dhobhighat area of Ahmedabad (May 5, 2002); Thakor Hindus trying to foment violence in the Ranip area of Ahmedabad city (May 6, 2002); likelihood of communal violence in the Vadaj and Vasna areas of Ahmedabad city (May 7, 2002); certain tribal sections being violently instigated to oppose rehabilitation of Muslims in Panwad and Kanwat areas of Chhotaudaipur in Vadodara Rural district (May 7, 2002); plans by extremist Hindu elements to create disturbances in the Paldi Muslim colony and peripheral areas of Ahmedabad city such as Juhapura, Kagadiwad, etc (May 9, 2002); miscreants moving in specific vehicles with a view to cause explosions in Danilimbda and other areas of Ahmedabad city (May 11, 2002); communal elements trying to violently prevent the rehabilitation of Muslims in Tejgadh and Kadwal areas of Chhotaudaipur in rural Vadodara (May 13, 2002).

It is significant to note that other senior officers of the SIB who met Gill on May 10, 2002 and presented their own assessments of the scenario concurred with the ADGP (int.)’s assessment of the situation in his report of April 24. OP Mathur, IGP (administration & security), E. Radhakrishnaiah, DyIGP (communal branch), Sanjiv Bhatt, SP (security) and RB Sreekumar all attended the meeting. Interestingly, Rajendra Kumar, joint director (central IB), was also present.

The disgraceful saga continues. Through May and June 2002, as head of state intelligence, Sreekumar continued to alert his men to the potential dangers on hand. Following Sreekumar’s detailed missives, which included maintaining a strict watch on aggressive Hindu and Muslim communal elements, in June 2002, PS Shah, additional secretary, home department, asked for a report assessing the communal situation in Gujarat. In response to Shah’s request, an assessment of the prevailing situation was prepared (on June 15, 2002) in which it was emphasised that the measures suggested in the April 24 communication needed to be implemented so as to achieve total normalcy on the communal front.

Subsequently, following a further request by PS Shah, a review of the law and order situation dated August 20, 2002 was prepared. This report covered aspects regarding the rehabilitation of riot victims wherein it was observed that about 75,500 persons who had migrated from various districts in the state had not returned to their original habitats due to a feeling of insecurity. Not surprisingly, the additional chief secretary (home), Ashok Narayan, who was clearly a part of Modi’s core group, had responded to this report with a report of his own dated September 9, 2002, stating that he did not agree with most aspects of the assessment.


Sreekumar argued that the rule of law encompassed the activities of an elected chief minister. He added that personal whim or party ideology cannot be equated to law. He maintained that the official is not always true, nor always ethical or legal. So an officer who disobeyed a verbal order which covertly demanded illegal action could well be doing his duty


A clash of wills also ensued between Sreekumar and Modi’s willing coterie with regard to the implementation of directions by the NHRC as contained in its report of May-July 2002. In its report titled "Run up to the Assembly Poll – Emerging Law and Order Trends" dated August 28, 2002, the SIB, under Sreekumar’s jurisdiction, stated that the non-implementation of the NHRC’s recommendations was also a key factor responsible for the delay in normalisation of the communal situation. This assessment was based on feedback from riot affected parties. Not content with a mere assessment, Sreekumar’s report recommended certain administrative measures. Among these was the suggestion that senior policemen and bureaucrats should issue comprehensive instructions in tune with various police manuals and compilations prepared by former Gujarat policemen. He said that it was time that a brochure on step by step measures to be taken in specific situations was issued by the state of Gujarat and followed stringently. The brochure should, he said, be supported by a detailed drill on actions that needed to be taken.

RB Sreekumar’s second and third affidavits before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, filed in October 2004 and April 2005 respectively, contained several incriminating facts that exposed the criminal and immoral conduct of the chief minister, Narendra Modi, and some senior officers. However, the Nanavati-Shah Commission has not taken any action following this alarming evidence. The commission did not call Sreekumar for further enquiry, nor did it order/conduct an independent enquiry into the allegations made and the facts revealed in his affidavits. The commission is empowered to summon documents from state government files before it comes to its final conclusions. It can also order investigations. But the commission has been a silent one so far. It has made no demands of the Gujarat government, nor has it called for any important documents relevant to its proceedings.

The behaviour of government advocates is another aspect that warrants attention. The conduct of Arvind Pandya, government counsel before the commission, contravenes the fundamental process of law and far overreaches his duties as an advocate. Pandya’s conduct, both inside and outside the commission, raises serious ethical questions. Instead of assisting the commission to arrive at the truth, he has been an active agent in Modi’s machinations; he formed part of the trio who, in August 2004, openly tried to intimidate former ADGP, RB Sreekumar, ‘not to tell the truth before the commission’. His conduct, however, has not elicited even a mild reprimand from the commission’s learned judges.

It was Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar who, suo motu, guided by their own conscience, submitted crucial documents and data from state government records. Even the startling revelations contained in these have not moved the Nanavati-Shah Commission to take any action or order any enquiry.

With his third affidavit, Sreekumar encloses more stunning evidence. A tape recorded conversation with Dinesh Kapadia, undersecretary of the Gujarat government, and an equally revelatory set of conversations with GC Murmu (secretary, law & order), both of whom were trying to persuade and then intimidate an honest officer into perjuring himself before a commission of enquiry. These meetings, which took place on August 21 and August 24, 2004, constitute the most blatant attempts by officers of the Gujarat state and even its own lawyer, to subvert the commission by intimidating officers.

At the first meeting Kapadia observes that newspaper reports conveyed the impression that Sreekumar was pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu. Sreekumar replies that he stood for the Indian Constitution and the ideals of citizenship. Kapadia then changes track, accusing him of being biased against the government and the ruling party. Sreekumar replies that it was not a question of community, party, office or regime. As a police officer, he failed to see the difference between majoritarian or minoritarian communalism. The undersecretary listens to Sreekumar earnestly explaining his position about the hate filled mindset that has resulted in such violence. Kapadia then asks him to ‘moderate his position’, requesting that ‘some circumspection be shown’. He also suggests that Sreekumar be ‘totally objective’ by ‘withholding ideology’. Responding to this, Sreekumar draws a clever comparison between Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, where violence was controlled, and other parts of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, where it was not.

Kapadia then tries to be more specific, saying that it was Modi, not the Gujarat police, who was the target of criticism everywhere. Kapadia says: "What if…Narendra Modi is removed? This Supreme Court, media, all elements making hue and cry, will become silent." He stresses, "You may place this on record. If Narendra Modi is removed, all these elements, self-proclaimed champions of secularism, will be totally silent. The main target is Modi." Kapadia then goes on to laud Sreekumar’s honesty and integrity but suggests that the commission is not the forum for interventions. He further adds that although many police officers were quite critical of the government, this had not appeared in public. He states that the then CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande, was the model of officialdom. PC Pande, in fact, told the Nanavati-Shah Commission that he did "not recollect, remember and recall many relevant things" pertaining to the time he was commissioner.

After a while Sreekumar becomes quite blunt, stating that his loyalty is only to the Constitution. Kapadia replies that revealing the truth before the commission would be futile: "These commissions are paper tigers." Sreekumar retaliates, saying "Truth is truth". To this, Kapadia replies, "It is against the public interest." 

The subsequent meeting with Murmu was in response to a direct summons. Murmu is accompanied by state government pleader before the commission, Arvind Pandya, who begins the conversation. Pandya remarks that he is surprised by the attention that Sreekumar’s affidavits have attracted considering that when the first affidavit was filed in 2002, it was one of 5,000 documents and no one noticed it. Trivialities about Sreekumar’s early years in the service are then discussed. Pandya carries on talking, questioning Sreekumar as if he were before Justice Nanavati, cautioning him "not to be very quick or very hasty in answering questions" and instructing him to "stall, and say ‘I don’t understand the question’." 

Pandya tries to further the theory of a conspiracy behind the Godhra incident (which Sreekumar has already denied in his affidavits) and basically instructs him to toe the chief minister’s line.

As is obvious, Sreekumar does not succumb to these pressures.

He has placed tape recordings and transcripts of both these conversations before the Nanavati-Shah Commission but no action has been taken so far. During his testimony and subsequent cross-examination before the commission, crucial questions are not put to him by either the government advocates or those representing victims or NGOs. This was and is a glaring deficiency.

It is in his third affidavit before the commission that Sreekumar places these details on record. The state responds by filing, on September 6, 2005, a set of nine charges against Sreekumar, simultaneously initiating a departmental enquiry against him. The charges for misconduct relate mainly to his depositions before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. These include the fact that he maintained a private diary of official behaviour which he then claimed was an official diary, conduct that is unbecoming of an officer. Second, that he had not obtained permission to do this. Third, that the unofficial diary contained secret information that had been clandestinely released to the press. Finally, the charges allege that Sreekumar had failed to obtain permission to place certain documents before the commission. Sreekumar has challenged this action before the Central Administrative Tribunal and arguments by both parties have just concluded.

In his fourth affidavit, Sreekumar replied forcefully to these charges, contending that an officer’s loyalty was to the Constitution and not an elected government. He argued that the rule of law encompassed the activities of an elected chief minister. He added that personal whim or party ideology cannot be equated to law. He maintained that the official is not always true, nor always ethical or legal. So an officer who disobeyed a verbal order which covertly demanded illegal action could well be doing his duty. Sreekumar also held that as a professional, as head of the State Intelligence Bureau, he was only following the rules of his professional training in prudently and confidentially recording illegal orders for future reference. The message he sends out is a powerful one. Duty must follow the Constitution and basic ethics of equity and non-discrimination. In certain circumstances to dissent or disobey an illegal order may be the ultimate act of duty.

For his foresight and his insight, Sreekumar continues to be hounded even today. After his retirement and his decision to join Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), the state government has stepped up its offensive and an old case filed by the VHP has been resurrected for ammunition. As SP, Kutch, in 1986, Sreekumar had taken firm action against the VHP for instigating communal violence. This matter lay stagnant until it was recently revived by a vindictive administration. As we go to press, RB Sreekumar was served a non-bailable warrant by an acquiescent court in Kutch. Fortunately, however, he was granted bail by a local court on July 23. This courageous and upright officer from Gujarat now joins the list of human rights defenders who have faced arrest in a similar fashion. There appears no end to the lengths that Modi’s government will go. And courts in the state seem only too willing to oblige.

This saga is another litmus test for Indian institutions, the judiciary and the executive.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, State Complicity 4

Truth and the Nanavati-Shah Commission


Courtesy: Javed Raja, Indian Express

In addition to about 3,500 affidavits relating to issues of loss of life and damage filed by victim survivors before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, senior police officers in Gujarat  have also filed their affidavits before the public commission of enquiry. An analysis of the latter tells its own two-pronged tale. On the one hand we see stoic courage in the face of adversity from a handful of officers who have laid bare the nitty-gritty of state connivance and planning not to mention several subsequent attempts at subverting the truth. In stark contrast are the testimonies by the majority of officers, many of whom assisted the government in whitewashing its dastardly role in and after the genocide of 2002.

The Gujarat government first announced the establishment of a commission of enquiry to probe the Godhra and post-Godhra carnage in March 2002. The initial announcement itself was seen as a partisan act. In its first official announcement on the matter, the state government declared that the commission would be headed by a single judge, Justice KG Shah, a man whose secular credentials were already somewhat suspect. The appointment of a single judge to investigate a volatile issue in a lawless state, one moreover who had been suspected of biased conduct in previous matters related to communal violence in Gujarat, led to nationwide protests that ultimately forced the government to modify its decision. Justice GT Nanavati’s inclusion on the enquiry panel was a corrective step.

The Modi government’s partisan approach was also reflected in the declaration of two distinct and discriminatory compensation packages for the families of victims who had died in the Godhra fire and those who had been massacred thereafter. Under the Gujarat government’s original plan, the families of victims of the Godhra train fire were to receive Rs two lakh each while the families of those who had died in the post-Godhra violence would receive Rs one lakh – half the amount. Protests finally corrected this blatant discrimination.

Cocooned in the warmth of political family – the parivar ruling at the Centre – the Modi government had announced the commission’s first terms of reference excluding the role of the chief minister, his cabinet, top bureaucrats and policemen from scrutiny. Two years later, the NDA’s unexpected rout in the national elections made the chief minister jittery. In July 2004, not long after the UPA government took charge, Modi hastily expanded the commission’s terms of reference. The step was a pre-emptive one in the event that the new government decided to institute a central government commission to probe the 2002 carnage or worse, lodge an FIR against Narendra Modi!

Thus the second terms of reference of the Nanavati-Shah Commission, issued under a government notification dated July 20, 2004, requested the commission to enquire into "the role and conduct of the then chief minister (Narendra Modi) or any other ministers in his council of ministers, police officers, other individuals and organisations" relating "to the facts, circumstances and course of events of the subsequent incidents in the aftermath of the Godhra incidents".

Even after the commission’s terms of reference were expanded and the enquiry necessitated a detailed scrutiny of their actions, Modi and his officials have done their best to subvert its proceedings. A majority of the key players in the planning and execution of the carnage and subsequent attempts to subvert the process of justice have not filed their second affidavits before the commission under its new terms of reference.

Specific directives by the then DGP, AK Bhargava, through his letters dated September 16 and 29, 2004, instructing all police officers who had filed their first affidavits under the commission’s initial terms of reference to also submit affidavits under the second terms of reference, were ignored. In fact, Bhargava’s orders even stated that it was the duty of the current incumbent in a post to ensure that his predecessor had filed the second affidavit.

The chief secretary is the bridge, the key link between the political echelons of government and the bureaucracy, including the police. He is thus a crucial player who could provide a critical account of events relating to that period of time. Strangely, however, the former chief secretary, G. Subbarao, has not filed any affidavits before the commission so far.

Evidence placed before the commission is unambiguous. And the absence of statements under oath, from key officials of the bureaucracy and the police, revealing. The affidavit and testimony of Rahul Sharma, SP, Bhavnagar, in 2002, is a telling account of the pressures faced by an upright officer of the law who beat down the efforts by fanatical elements to attack a boarding school that housed over 400 Muslim children and burn them alive. Data that Sharma subsequently revealed before the commission in 2004 included mobile phone records of incriminating calls made and received by policemen between February 28 and March 5, 2002.

The first affidavit, filed in July 2002, documents the assiduous attempts by the State Intelligence Bureau to warn of the consequences of the rabid communal mobilisation undertaken by cadres of the BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal on their way to Ayodhya

Sreekumar’s four magnum affidavits represent the persistent efforts of a police officer to document the dark reality behind the violence of 2002 and its aftermath. They reveal the role of intelligence agencies in the build-up to the Godhra incident and the genocide of 2002, and the response of the political class, policemen and bureaucrats. If his personal register is a gripping narrative of the Gujarat administration’s barefaced acts of collusion and subversion, his affidavits are substantive revelations of official records of the time.

But Sreekumar’s tireless efforts to expose the truth, his courage, came at a price. His affidavits before the commission not only cost him an important promotion, he was and continues to be hounded and harassed by a vindictive administration. Even so, the Nanavati-Shah Commission has not intervened with any orders that could protect this officer from persistent onslaught. Sreekumar has only suffered for telling the truth before this public body, for upholding Section 6 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. In light of this, the commission’s silence on the issue is particularly telling and raises serious doubts about the enquiry’s eventual outcome.

Role of state intelligence

The four affidavits filed by RB Sreekumar before the Nanavati-Shah Commission between 2002 and 2005 record startling details of sheer brazenness and collusion. The first affidavit, filed in July 2002, documents the assiduous attempts by the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) to warn of the consequences of the rabid communal mobilisation undertaken by cadres of the BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal on their way to Ayodhya. Sreekumar has stated that the SIB issued regular warnings about the likely threats to public peace that could be expected because of unruly mobilisation by communal outfits. It was the executive wing of the police – influenced no doubt by Modi, key cabinet colleagues and the top echelons of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), including the chief secretary, G. Subbarao, and the principal secretary to the chief minister, PK Mishra – who simply did not translate these into strict directives for preventive action. The then DGP, K. Chakravarti issued no special instructions for the maintenance of law and order and no strict instructions on how mobs should be dealt with.

The affidavit also records a significant aspect of the post-Godhra genocidal violence in Ahmedabad, one of the areas worst affected by the violence. The attacks in Ahmedabad did not take place in communally sensitive areas and ghettos but in areas where minority communities live(d) in isolation surrounded by Hindus.

In para 17 of his first affidavit, Sreekumar states that as far back as February 13, 2002, in response to a message received from the inspector general (IG) (CI) of the UP intelligence department in Lucknow, the SIB in Gujarat requested the superintendents of police from all districts and commissioners of police from all cities and towns in Gujarat to: "inform the SP, Faizabad, about the movement of kar sevaks from their respective jurisdictions. Following this missive (the) SP, Western Railways, Baroda had informed (the) IGP (communal intelligence), UP, Lucknow, through his fax message…dated February 16, 2002 that Prahlad J. Patel, president of Bajrang Dal, Mehsana, would be leading a group of 150-200 Bajrang Dal activists of Mehsana for the Ayodhya Maha Yagna by 9165 DN Sabarmati Express on February 22, 2002. It was also mentioned in the said fax message that the Bajrang Dal activists travelling to Ayodhya would be carrying trishuls with them. Similarly, SP, Mehsana, also sent a…message to IGP (communal intelligence), intelligence department, Lucknow, UP…dated February 19, 2002, stating, among other things, that a group of 150 Ram bhakts armed with trishuls would be leaving Ahmedabad by train for Ayodhya on February 22, 2002 under the leadership of Prahlad Jayantibhai Patel, president, Bajrang Dal, Mehsana and would be arriving at Ayodhya on February 24, 2002."

It was some of these kar sevaks who, on their return journey from Ayodhya, became victims of the Godhra arson incident on February 27, 2002, and this has also been mentioned in the affidavit.

Failure of central intelligence

Sreekumar’s first affidavit also records the utter failure of both the UP state intelligence department and the central Intelligence Bureau (IB) to forewarn local authorities about the kar sevaks’ movements. In para 18, Sreekumar states that: "It is pertinent to note that there was no intimation from (the) intelligence branch of UP police or central Intelligence Bureau, which has an extensive nationwide network to collect intelligence on developments relevant to internal security, about the return journey of these ram sevaks who had gone to Ayodhya." (It is perhaps significant to note that during this period, while the BJP-led NDA coalition ruled at the Centre, in UP it was Rajnath Singh’s BJP government that was in power until March 8, 2002, following which president’s rule was imposed in the state.)

There was also no information from the central IB or any inputs from any other agency about the possible attack on Ram sevaks returning from Ayodhya by fundamentalist and militant elements among the minority community or other antisocial elements. Worse, in para 19, Sreekumar records that the UP police did not inform the Gujarat state intelligence department or the police about the unruly behaviour of Ram sevaks on their return journey even though there had been an altercation between some Ram sevaks and Muslims when the latter tried to board the train at Rudauli railway station in UP at around 9 a.m. on February 24, 2002. A note dated February 27, 2002, addressed to all DGPs of the country from the IG, intelligence department, UP, about the return journey of ram sevaks, was received a day later, post facto, at 8.15 a.m. on February 28 – that is, after the arson incident on the Sabarmati Express took place.


Courtesy: AP

In this connection, Sreekumar states that: "Though there were intelligence inputs pertaining to the movements of kar sevaks to Ayodhya from Gujarat state, there was no specific information about the return of kar sevaks from Ayodhya, from (the) UP police or central Intelligence Bureau, which has the onerous responsibility of timely forewarning the law enforcement officers in the state about nationwide or interstate emerging trends so that suitable precautionary countermeasures can be taken. The only message about the return of kar sevaks sent by the Uttar Pradesh police was received (by the) Gujarat police only on February 28 i.e. after the incident on February 27, 2002. No intelligence input either from the Government Railway Police (GRP), the Godhra district LIB or central intelligence was available about the possibility of any conspiracy or planning by Muslim militants or any antisocial elements to attack or cause harm to the Ram bhakts returning from Ayodhya. The only intelligence received from the GRP indicated that the Ram bhakts, led by Prahlad J. Patel, president of Bajrang Dal, Mehsana, (were) to start from Ayodhya on February 26, 2002 at night and return to Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002."

Maintenance of internal security is a fundamental if unwritten component of the central Intelligence Bureau’s charter of duties. And this is precisely what the central IB so singularly failed to do. In not providing advance preventive intelligence with regard to the Godhra incident and its aftermath, the bureau compromised internal security and put thousands of people in mortal danger.

Standard IB practice and procedure requires that whenever there are nationwide activities involving large numbers of organised groups, such as the communal mobilisation of kar sevaks, IB agents travel with these contingents. Through the detailed analysis provided in RB Sreekumar’s first affidavit it appears that this procedure was not followed in the case of kar sevaks travelling from Gujarat to Ayodhya in February 2002. If this procedure had been followed, the Gujarat police and intelligence network would have been alerted to the belligerent behaviour of the kar sevaks, their altercation with vendors and others at railway stations, their return to Gujarat a day earlier than scheduled and other related information. Sreekumar’s affidavit states that the central IB did not provide such intelligence to the local police. This ruled out any likelihood of the Gujarat police arranging effective police deployment at railway stations on the kar sevaks’ route.

However, given the communal mobilisation that had been under way from early February 2002, the absence of any deployment of army or paramilitary forces in Godhra, a communally sensitive spot, was conspicuous and even suspicious. This is a task that rests with the state’s home ministry. CC’s "Genocide – Gujarat 2002" issue carried interviews with former officers of the Indian army who have, in the past, been deployed at Godhra in far less tense situations and who expressed outrage that inadequate troops had been deployed there.

Sreekumar’s first affidavit also reveals that the SIB had alerted all police commissioners and SPs in all districts of Gujarat to take precautionary steps to prevent likely communal clashes in their jurisdictions. In effect, it was the perverse will of the chief minister, imposed through a supine bureaucracy and top police leadership, which disregarded systematic warnings from its own intelligence bureau. The SIB had sent out as many as three separate notes in this regard on February 27, 2002 itself. In addition to these messages, on February 27, specific information was also sent to the CP, Ahmedabad city, about the VHP’s call for a Gujarat bandh (on February 28) to protest against the Godhra train burning and a meeting being held by the organisation in that connection at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

The affidavit also records that these warnings continued, unheeded. Even after the initial outbreak of genocidal violence, the SIB periodically provided specific data to jurisdictional police, particularly to the CP, Ahmedabad city, where incidents of communal violence persisted. For instance, a written report dated April 15, 2002 was sent to the CP, Ahmedabad, by the ADGP (int.), informing him about the move by extremist and fundamentalist elements among Muslims to resist large-scale house-to-house search operations ("combing") conducted by the police. The same missive also warned of the plan by radical Hindu elements to organise a major assault in Juhapura, a predominantly Muslim colony. In another despatch to the CP, Ahmedabad city, dated April 26, 2002, the SIB provided information on (1) The plan by Bajrang Dal leaders to distribute lethal weapons (2) The migration of Muslim families from certain areas in Ahmedabad city (3) The plan by Islamic militants from within and outside the country to distribute sophisticated weapons to local Muslim militants.

The central IB unit in Gujarat is called the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Ahmedabad. Strangely, it was Rajendra Kumar, the then joint director, central IB, (Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Ahmedabad), who, within hours of the train arson, came out with the theory of an ‘ISI conspiracy’ behind the Godhra incident. On the afternoon of February 27, 2002 itself, the then DGP, K. Chakravarti had informed Sreekumar that Rajendra Kumar had advised and even tried to persuade the DGP to pursue investigations into the Godhra incident along those lines.

During the course of that year, in personal conversations with Sreekumar too, Rajendra Kumar repeatedly stressed the urgent need for the Gujarat police to collect evidence that would prove the ISI conspiracy angle. When Sreekumar questioned the basis of the conspiracy theory, Kumar could not provide any sound and acceptable material to substantiate it. Curiously, Kumar did not send any formal reports, from the central IB to the state IB, containing inputs on the genesis, course and perpetration of the ISI conspiracy and the persons involved in it. Senior BJP leaders, supported by bureaucrats like the secretary (law & order), GC Murmu, and officers like Rajendra Kumar, were hell-bent on projecting an unsubstantiated ‘ISI conspiracy angle’ without furnishing details or proof.

It is significant to note that other senior officers of the SIB who met Gill on May 10, 2002 and presented their own assessments of the scenario concurred with ADGP Sreekumar’s assessment of the situation

Interestingly, on March 28, 2002, as significant political moves were afoot to project an ISI conspiracy behind the Godhra tragedy, a ‘secret’ fax message (signed by GK Naicker, section officer, home department) was received from the union home ministry, suggesting "counter-aggression by radical Muslim youth organised by the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) in Juhapura" and that the administration was not dealing firmly with these developments.

It has been reliably deduced that the collusion between the central NDA and Modi’s government extended to hand-picking key officials for key postings before the carnage. Rajendra Kumar and Narendra Modi were old friends. The two men grew close when Rajendra Kumar, an officer from the Indian Police Service (IPS)’s Manipur Tripura cadre, was posted at the central IB in Chandigarh and Modi, as BJP secretary, was in charge of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir during the 1990s. Within the Gujarat administration it is widely believed that Rajendra Kumar also played a key role in guiding and even prompting former DCP of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, DG Vanzara, to organise the ‘elimination’ of several Muslims from late 2002 onwards. Rajendra Kumar was also instrumental in having many Muslim youth arrested under POTA and instituting cases against them through the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. Some of these cases were discharged by the court for want of evidence before they reached trial.

Although it is the central IB that is responsible for reporting on internal security, Rajendra Kumar, as joint director, central IB, has not filed any affidavits before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. This amounts to a significant abdication of duty. It is especially significant given the fact that the IB has filed affidavits before other commissions investigating other catastrophes in the past, including the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and so on. Not surprisingly, when on September 6, 2005 the Gujarat government served a charge sheet on RB Sreekumar, Rajendra Kumar, who is currently joint director, IB, at the IB headquarters in New Delhi, under the UPA’s home ministry, offered to be a witness on behalf of the state government!

RB Sreekumar filed his second affidavit before the commission in October 2004, after the commission’s terms of reference had been expanded. This document contains a minefield of information especially with regard to the internal discussions held with KPS Gill, former DGP, Punjab, who was brought in by the NDA regime to ‘bring normalcy to Gujarat’. The affidavit records the first meeting with the ‘supercop’ on May 4, 2002, at which, in keeping with their proclamations to the world, blatant attempts were made by the chief secretary and principal secretary to suggest that ‘normalcy’ had indeed returned to Gujarat. A few officers present at the meeting, including ADGP Maniram and Sreekumar himself, contradicted this by presenting the true picture. They also offered their suggestions on what could be done to improve the status quo. Among other things, Sreekumar gave Gill a copy of the report on Ahmedabad and other communally sensitive areas that he had prepared. His "Analysis of the Communal Situation" dated April 24, 2002, carried with it an unsigned note containing certain points of action that could be implemented to defuse the communally explosive situation.

The suggestions included: "(1) Restoration of the faith of the public, particularly the minorities, in the criminal justice system (2) Replacement of the present incumbents in executive posts at the cutting edge level from those places where the police did not act conscientiously during the riots (3) Effective action to unearth stock of arms and booking of criminal and communal elements of both majority and minority communities (4) Action through non-political spiritual and religious leaders to de-communalise those under the spell of fundamentalist/extremist sections (5) Action at the social level to bring together both communities by proliferating interaction at various facets (6) Action against radical groups (7) Measures to improve the security ambience in the riot affected areas for facilitating the refugees to go back to their pre-riot residential areas (8) Purposeful legal action against publication and distribution of pamphlets/ handbills, etc/reports in the vernacular press, etc fomenting animosity between different groups on grounds of religion."

The report also warned that alarming tendencies could grow and flourish (within the minorities) if such measures were not taken.

Unsurprisingly, Chief Minister Modi’s personal intervention after this report was recorded and circulated (on May 7, 2002; see accompanying article, "Badge of Honour") and ‘supercop’ Gill’s succumbing to political pressure (May 8, 2002) thwarted constructive suggestions from policemen like Maniram and Sreekumar. Gill, in fact, even ‘instructed’ policemen not to try and reform politicians.

Sreekumar’s second affidavit records that, at this time, the SIB had also issued detailed communications (through this report) on signs that the Gujarat police should watch out for: i) some information that about a dozen communal elements from the minority community were trying to instigate violence (May 2, 2002); similar attempts were being made by minority communal elements in the Panigate area of Vadodara (May 4, 2002); likelihood of violence in the Dhobhighat area of Ahmedabad (May 5, 2002); Thakor Hindus trying to foment violence in the Ranip area of Ahmedabad city (May 6, 2002); likelihood of communal violence in the Vadaj and Vasna areas of Ahmedabad city (May 7, 2002); certain tribal sections being violently instigated to oppose rehabilitation of Muslims in Panwad and Kanwat areas of Chhotaudaipur in Vadodara Rural district (May 7, 2002); plans by extremist Hindu elements to create disturbances in the Paldi Muslim colony and peripheral areas of Ahmedabad city such as Juhapura, Kagadiwad, etc (May 9, 2002); miscreants moving in specific vehicles with a view to cause explosions in Danilimbda and other areas of Ahmedabad city (May 11, 2002); communal elements trying to violently prevent the rehabilitation of Muslims in Tejgadh and Kadwal areas of Chhotaudaipur in rural Vadodara (May 13, 2002).

It is significant to note that other senior officers of the SIB who met Gill on May 10, 2002 and presented their own assessments of the scenario concurred with the ADGP (int.)’s assessment of the situation in his report of April 24. OP Mathur, IGP (administration & security), E. Radhakrishnaiah, DyIGP (communal branch), Sanjiv Bhatt, SP (security) and RB Sreekumar all attended the meeting. Interestingly, Rajendra Kumar, joint director (central IB), was also present.

The disgraceful saga continues. Through May and June 2002, as head of state intelligence, Sreekumar continued to alert his men to the potential dangers on hand. Following Sreekumar’s detailed missives, which included maintaining a strict watch on aggressive Hindu and Muslim communal elements, in June 2002, PS Shah, additional secretary, home department, asked for a report assessing the communal situation in Gujarat. In response to Shah’s request, an assessment of the prevailing situation was prepared (on June 15, 2002) in which it was emphasised that the measures suggested in the April 24 communication needed to be implemented so as to achieve total normalcy on the communal front.

Subsequently, following a further request by PS Shah, a review of the law and order situation dated August 20, 2002 was prepared. This report covered aspects regarding the rehabilitation of riot victims wherein it was observed that about 75,500 persons who had migrated from various districts in the state had not returned to their original habitats due to a feeling of insecurity. Not surprisingly, the additional chief secretary (home), Ashok Narayan, who was clearly a part of Modi’s core group, had responded to this report with a report of his own dated September 9, 2002, stating that he did not agree with most aspects of the assessment.


Sreekumar argued that the rule of law encompassed the activities of an elected chief minister. He added that personal whim or party ideology cannot be equated to law. He maintained that the official is not always true, nor always ethical or legal. So an officer who disobeyed a verbal order which covertly demanded illegal action could well be doing his duty


A clash of wills also ensued between Sreekumar and Modi’s willing coterie with regard to the implementation of directions by the NHRC as contained in its report of May-July 2002. In its report titled "Run up to the Assembly Poll – Emerging Law and Order Trends" dated August 28, 2002, the SIB, under Sreekumar’s jurisdiction, stated that the non-implementation of the NHRC’s recommendations was also a key factor responsible for the delay in normalisation of the communal situation. This assessment was based on feedback from riot affected parties. Not content with a mere assessment, Sreekumar’s report recommended certain administrative measures. Among these was the suggestion that senior policemen and bureaucrats should issue comprehensive instructions in tune with various police manuals and compilations prepared by former Gujarat policemen. He said that it was time that a brochure on step by step measures to be taken in specific situations was issued by the state of Gujarat and followed stringently. The brochure should, he said, be supported by a detailed drill on actions that needed to be taken.

RB Sreekumar’s second and third affidavits before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, filed in October 2004 and April 2005 respectively, contained several incriminating facts that exposed the criminal and immoral conduct of the chief minister, Narendra Modi, and some senior officers. However, the Nanavati-Shah Commission has not taken any action following this alarming evidence. The commission did not call Sreekumar for further enquiry, nor did it order/conduct an independent enquiry into the allegations made and the facts revealed in his affidavits. The commission is empowered to summon documents from state government files before it comes to its final conclusions. It can also order investigations. But the commission has been a silent one so far. It has made no demands of the Gujarat government, nor has it called for any important documents relevant to its proceedings.

The behaviour of government advocates is another aspect that warrants attention. The conduct of Arvind Pandya, government counsel before the commission, contravenes the fundamental process of law and far overreaches his duties as an advocate. Pandya’s conduct, both inside and outside the commission, raises serious ethical questions. Instead of assisting the commission to arrive at the truth, he has been an active agent in Modi’s machinations; he formed part of the trio who, in August 2004, openly tried to intimidate former ADGP, RB Sreekumar, ‘not to tell the truth before the commission’. His conduct, however, has not elicited even a mild reprimand from the commission’s learned judges.

It was Rahul Sharma and RB Sreekumar who, suo motu, guided by their own conscience, submitted crucial documents and data from state government records. Even the startling revelations contained in these have not moved the Nanavati-Shah Commission to take any action or order any enquiry.

With his third affidavit, Sreekumar encloses more stunning evidence. A tape recorded conversation with Dinesh Kapadia, undersecretary of the Gujarat government, and an equally revelatory set of conversations with GC Murmu (secretary, law & order), both of whom were trying to persuade and then intimidate an honest officer into perjuring himself before a commission of enquiry. These meetings, which took place on August 21 and August 24, 2004, constitute the most blatant attempts by officers of the Gujarat state and even its own lawyer, to subvert the commission by intimidating officers.

At the first meeting Kapadia observes that newspaper reports conveyed the impression that Sreekumar was pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu. Sreekumar replies that he stood for the Indian Constitution and the ideals of citizenship. Kapadia then changes track, accusing him of being biased against the government and the ruling party. Sreekumar replies that it was not a question of community, party, office or regime. As a police officer, he failed to see the difference between majoritarian or minoritarian communalism. The undersecretary listens to Sreekumar earnestly explaining his position about the hate filled mindset that has resulted in such violence. Kapadia then asks him to ‘moderate his position’, requesting that ‘some circumspection be shown’. He also suggests that Sreekumar be ‘totally objective’ by ‘withholding ideology’. Responding to this, Sreekumar draws a clever comparison between Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, where violence was controlled, and other parts of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, where it was not.

Kapadia then tries to be more specific, saying that it was Modi, not the Gujarat police, who was the target of criticism everywhere. Kapadia says: "What if…Narendra Modi is removed? This Supreme Court, media, all elements making hue and cry, will become silent." He stresses, "You may place this on record. If Narendra Modi is removed, all these elements, self-proclaimed champions of secularism, will be totally silent. The main target is Modi." Kapadia then goes on to laud Sreekumar’s honesty and integrity but suggests that the commission is not the forum for interventions. He further adds that although many police officers were quite critical of the government, this had not appeared in public. He states that the then CP, Ahmedabad, PC Pande, was the model of officialdom. PC Pande, in fact, told the Nanavati-Shah Commission that he did "not recollect, remember and recall many relevant things" pertaining to the time he was commissioner.

After a while Sreekumar becomes quite blunt, stating that his loyalty is only to the Constitution. Kapadia replies that revealing the truth before the commission would be futile: "These commissions are paper tigers." Sreekumar retaliates, saying "Truth is truth". To this, Kapadia replies, "It is against the public interest." 

The subsequent meeting with Murmu was in response to a direct summons. Murmu is accompanied by state government pleader before the commission, Arvind Pandya, who begins the conversation. Pandya remarks that he is surprised by the attention that Sreekumar’s affidavits have attracted considering that when the first affidavit was filed in 2002, it was one of 5,000 documents and no one noticed it. Trivialities about Sreekumar’s early years in the service are then discussed. Pandya carries on talking, questioning Sreekumar as if he were before Justice Nanavati, cautioning him "not to be very quick or very hasty in answering questions" and instructing him to "stall, and say ‘I don’t understand the question’." 

Pandya tries to further the theory of a conspiracy behind the Godhra incident (which Sreekumar has already denied in his affidavits) and basically instructs him to toe the chief minister’s line.

As is obvious, Sreekumar does not succumb to these pressures.

He has placed tape recordings and transcripts of both these conversations before the Nanavati-Shah Commission but no action has been taken so far. During his testimony and subsequent cross-examination before the commission, crucial questions are not put to him by either the government advocates or those representing victims or NGOs. This was and is a glaring deficiency.

It is in his third affidavit before the commission that Sreekumar places these details on record. The state responds by filing, on September 6, 2005, a set of nine charges against Sreekumar, simultaneously initiating a departmental enquiry against him. The charges for misconduct relate mainly to his depositions before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. These include the fact that he maintained a private diary of official behaviour which he then claimed was an official diary, conduct that is unbecoming of an officer. Second, that he had not obtained permission to do this. Third, that the unofficial diary contained secret information that had been clandestinely released to the press. Finally, the charges allege that Sreekumar had failed to obtain permission to place certain documents before the commission. Sreekumar has challenged this action before the Central Administrative Tribunal and arguments by both parties have just concluded.

In his fourth affidavit, Sreekumar replied forcefully to these charges, contending that an officer’s loyalty was to the Constitution and not an elected government. He argued that the rule of law encompassed the activities of an elected chief minister. He added that personal whim or party ideology cannot be equated to law. He maintained that the official is not always true, nor always ethical or legal. So an officer who disobeyed a verbal order which covertly demanded illegal action could well be doing his duty. Sreekumar also held that as a professional, as head of the State Intelligence Bureau, he was only following the rules of his professional training in prudently and confidentially recording illegal orders for future reference. The message he sends out is a powerful one. Duty must follow the Constitution and basic ethics of equity and non-discrimination. In certain circumstances to dissent or disobey an illegal order may be the ultimate act of duty.

For his foresight and his insight, Sreekumar continues to be hounded even today. After his retirement and his decision to join Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), the state government has stepped up its offensive and an old case filed by the VHP has been resurrected for ammunition. As SP, Kutch, in 1986, Sreekumar had taken firm action against the VHP for instigating communal violence. This matter lay stagnant until it was recently revived by a vindictive administration. As we go to press, RB Sreekumar was served a non-bailable warrant by an acquiescent court in Kutch. Fortunately, however, he was granted bail by a local court on July 23. This courageous and upright officer from Gujarat now joins the list of human rights defenders who have faced arrest in a similar fashion. There appears no end to the lengths that Modi’s government will go. And courts in the state seem only too willing to oblige.

This saga is another litmus test for Indian institutions, the judiciary and the executive.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2007 Year 13    No.124, Genocide's Aftermath Part II, State Complicity 4

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