It was morning of 28 February 2002, a day after the 2002 Gujarat riots had begun. A mob shouting slogans gathered outside the Gulbarg Society in the Muslim-dominated Chamanpura area of Ahmedabad. The Society comprised 29 bungalows and 10 apartment buildings, housing mostly Muslim upper-middle-class business families. Many of the residents reacted to the presence of the mob by taking refuge in the home of a former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri. It was claimed that Jafri vainly made repeated attempts to contact the police by telephone. By noon, the mob had turned violent, breached the boundary wall and started to set fire to houses and attack residents. Sixty nine people died during the following six hours and at least a further 85 were injured. Among the dead was Ehsan Jafri, who was hacked to death and later burnt.
Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, who has been waging a battle for 14 years to secure justice for her late husband, now expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict and said she will continue her fight. She is senior citizen and fragile but her eyes are yet humid with pain. Perhaps, this verdict was ‘Achhe Din’ for a selected few, those were acquitted instead of conviction. So many years of slogging in the case but police personnel are acquitted, politicians are acquitted, key accused are acquitted, then who are convicted? The foot soldiers who begin following them under emotion. Is this justice? Is this rule of law? Fourteen years to deliver the judgement in lower court. After this, HC, SC, appeal, and another decade will be passed. And, finally we will forget the brutality. Some accused may be dead on the day of final verdict.
In October 2007, the Aaj Tak News Channel showed a footage of a sting operation carried out by Tehelka magazine, wherein 14 VHP or Bajrang Dal activists, including, Madan Chawal, a Gulbarg Society massacre accused, and a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Godhra, Haresh Bhatt who was national vice-president of Bajrang Dal during the riots, were shown talking about the execution of the killings. The investigative journalists’ reports were finally published in the 3 November 2007 issue of Tehelka. However, that report played no role as an evidence or legal proof in any of the cases.
The Supreme Court of India had stayed the trial in major Gujarat cases on petitions filed by the National Human Rights Commission and the Citizens for Justice and Peace, who sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation and transfer of the cases outside Gujarat. The SC bench on 26 March 2008, directed the Gujarat government to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by R. K. Raghavan, a former head of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the case. It reopened nine crucial riot cases. Seven years after the incident, in February 2009, Erda, the Deputy Superintendent of Police with the Gujarat Police at the time was arrested on charges of dereliction of duty and for tampering with evidence, as some survivors alleged that he not only allowed the killings to happen but also helped rioters to burn the dead bodies. The SIT finally submitted its report on 14 May 2010 to the apex court registry of the Supreme Court, after which the Supreme Court asked the SIT to look into the doubts raised by amicus curiae Raju Ramchandran. SIT submitted its entire report including case papers, witnesses’ testimonies and other details on 15 March 2012.
The Society, with most of the houses damaged or burnt, was later abandoned. Of the eighteen houses, which were burnt, only one has been repaired. Although none of the families returned, some of them congregate each year on the anniversary of the event and offer prayers. However, in April 2012, a Special Investigation Team found that then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had absolutely no role in the killing of Ehsan Jafri. Later, a protest petition was filed by his wife Zakia Jafri seeking rejection of the said SIT report and Supreme Court accepted the same and the case is under process of being heard. SIT has strongly opposed this petition and said “Modi has never said that go and kill people”. Later Court through Gujarat High Court stayed the routine transfer of the metropolitan magistrate hearing the petition on the information of the amicus curiae, Harish Salve, that the routine transfer due to the end of his term may delay the case.
In 2004, in an interview with Hardnews, Former Chief Justice of India V N Khare alleged that massacre could not have taken place without the complicity of Narendra Modi. Khare has said that in his opinion Modi should be criminally prosecuted for genocide and manslaughter for the Gulbarga Society Massacre. Reacting to this observation, Modi did not make any statement but said that he could not distinguish between khare (just) and khote (unjust). He said that Khare was no longer holding the high office and his statement should be seen in this light. However, in December 2013, Ahmedabad Metropolitan court rejected the petition filed by Zakia. In April 2014, Supreme Court praised SIT probe into the riot cases, and also declined to reconstitute another SIT for probing Gujarat riots.
The Gulbarg Society case is one of the nine cases of the 2002 Gujarat riots probed by the Supreme Court appointed SIT. The incident had taken place a day after S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt near Godhra Railway station, in which 58 ‘karsevaks’ were killed. From 2002 to 2015 very little progress has been done in this case. Let’s see how long this case continues and when will memory of the incidence erase from people’s mind.
Inputs from various agencies
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