For first two women accused,acquittal not enough to wash off ‘notoriety’

Ramila Rathod and her younger sister Gita were the first two women accused arrested by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team in the riots.

Written by Parimal Dabhi | Ahmedabad | Published:February 28, 2013 3:02 am

Ramila Rathod and her younger sister Gita were the first two women accused arrested by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team in the riots. Last year,both of them were acquitted by a special trial court from the Naroda Patiya massacre case,one of the most gruesome of the 2002 riots.

Except this consolation,the family has nothing to cheer about. Apart from being the first two women accused,the Rathod family had four members who were declared accused.

While the two sisters have been acquitted,their brother Mukesh Rathod has been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and their father Ratilal Rathod alias Bhavani,who was also an accused,died pending trial.

“We feel nothing,” says Ramila,her eyes full of tears,when asked about their acquittal. “My father is dead and my brother is in jail. After my father,who was an AMTS driver,Mukesh was the family’s sole breadwinner. And now,after his jail term,we are surviving on the rent of three small houses in the chawls nearby and pension of our father,” she adds.

Ramila,in mid 30s,stays at their house in Naroda Patiya along with mother Shantaben,sisters Nisha and Gita,Mukesh’s son Daksha and her sister-in-law.

Recalling the 11 long years of legal fight,she says,“When the riots were on,we were inside the house and then went to a relative’s place in the SRP quarters when the situation worsened. In fact,my father had helped some of the victims during the massacre. But,then our names cropped up as accused in the case.”

“Since 2002,we have been living in constant fear of being forced into a criminal case by the locals on one or the other pretext. In fact,when my brother got bail,we made him stay at a different house away from Patiya,” Ramila says.

Ramila’s father and brother were arrested around 2002 and the two sisters were arrested in 2007. “My sister Gita was very young when she was arrested. And lots of news reports appeared on her being the first woman accused in the riots. It hurt us. And the notoriety that she got during that period,I don’t think is going to be washed away by the acquittal,” she adds.

The case,Ramila says,ruined her personal life. As she was married in 2001 to a youth from a nearby chawl. “After our names appeared as accused,my in-laws got afraid of being framed in the case because of us. My husband divorced me within a couple of months.”

Due to their weak financial condition,Ramila,Gita and Mukesh could not hire a lawyer,after which they were provided a lawyer by the court.

Ramila says the situation has worsened for them after the judgment as before that,her brother was out on bail. “Now,with him (Mukesh) going to jail,we are all women left in the family. In a place like Naroda Patiya,it’s very difficult for us to live. We want to sell off our house to move to a better place,but nobody is ready to buy it as it falls on the ‘border line’,” she says.

‘I knew I would come clean one day’

Ramesh Manibhai Patel (51),a farmer living in Poornima Chawk near the Pirawali Bhagol locality,was picked up by police days after the riots. Though he was soon released on bail,Patel was arrested again in October 2009 after the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court took over the investigations in 2008.

By the time the sole breadwinner of the family was acquitted by the court on April 9,2012,the family had incurred debt to the tune of Rs 10 lakh to fight the legal battle and maintain daily affairs. And to add to their woes,Patel’s younger brother divided the family property while he was in jail.

The family says they have paid around Rs 4 lakh to their advocates.

“It was like the end of the world for me. How could a lone woman raise two children? I had to borrow money to run the family and pursue the case,” says his wife Manjula (47).

Within months of Patel’s arrest for the second time,his daughter Heena,who was in second year of B Com,had to abandon her studies. “Our son Jay (who is now 17) was also studying. So there was no one to look after our farms of banana and chilly,and fighting the case was also a costly affair,” she adds.

Manjula got her elder daughter Komal married in December 2011 while Patel was in Bilodara jail near Nadiad in neighbouring Kheda district.

Son Jay,who is pursuing BBA,says,“Now that he is back,I shall go for an MBA degree.”

While Patel was in jail,his friend Mahendra Patel managed farming in the former’s 5.5 bighas of land. Mahendra died of cancer three months before Patel’s release. “He was so dear to me. Alas,he could not see me returning home,” says Patel,breaking down.

“Since I was not involved in the riots,I knew I would come clean one day. And this was the reason no witness could tell the court that I was part of the mob. But such are our laws. Once in police net,one has to be prepared to serve undeclared jail terms despite being innocent,” he adds.

Patel and his wife barely socialise after his release,and he has even given up tea because he misses his mates of jail with whom he used to have tea and who are now convicted.

FACTFILE

Case: Pirawali Bhagol (Ode-I),March 1,2002

Verdict: April 9,2012

Convicted: 23 (18 get life imprisonment,five jailed for seven years)

Mob of 1,500 to 2,000 sets Muslim houses on fire at Pirawali Bhagol,killing 23

Case: Malav Bhagol (Ode-II),March 1,2002

Verdict: May 4,2012

Convicted: Nine (life imprisonment)

Acquitted: 30

Rioters burnt alive three of a Muslim family. While the state government has challenged the acquittals in the twin cases before the Gujarat High Court,the convicts have moved the HC against the order of the trial court.

‘Our Muslim friends couldn’t trust us… we have stopped giving clarifications’

For young Rohit Prajapati,getting rounded up by cops for torching houses of his mates at Sheikh Mohalla was not easy to accept. The 16-year-old boy faced allegations of fuelling riots and hatching a conspiracy to kill Muslims.

Rohit,now father of a three-year-old daughter,runs his house by repairing television sets. He dropped out of school because his father was jailed in the same case and is now serving a life term.

Sheikh Mohalla was attacked in the 2002 riots killing 33,mainly Sheikhs and Mansuris. Rohit and his father Raman Prajapati,who had supposedly gone to neighbouring Sundarpur,were rounded up the next day when they came back.

“When our own Muslim friends couldn’t trust that it was not us (Prajapatis) who torched their homes or killed women,we couldn’t do much. My father is in jail since 2002 and now we have even stopped giving clarifications,” says Rohit.

He was out on bail after spending three months in jail,which he says is the worst period of his life. “I was kept along with other accused in jail first at Vijapur and then in the Mehsana district jail. The accused,all Patels,used to fight and blame each other for the outcome while my father and I had nothing to say.”

Rohit’s case is registered with the juvenile court in Mehsana where he has to depose at least twice a month since 2002.

Kanu Rewa,a farmer living opposite the abandoned Sheikh Mohalla,was in jail with his close friend Joitaram Patel,‘Master’,who was a teacher in A S High School. Nine of them were in jail for three and half years and later acquitted by the Mehsana court for lack of evidence.

Still upset with his arrest,Kanu says,“SIT members came with a warrant and told us that witnesses have named us. They locked us up without any evidence. Ministers were pressurising them.”

Two of Kanu’s brothers and one uncle who all used to work in their cottonseed farms have been convicted.

Patel feels the damage more to his name than the three years lost in jail. A maths teacher,he was suspended from his job after the SIT arrested him. After his acquittal,the school reinstated him and he now teaches in Class XI.

His wife Meenu says,“We have no farms like other Patels. I stepped out of the house to work at the farms of others to run the house. Those three years were like hell without his salary; my elder daughter dropped out of school to help me.”

‘When my sons went to jail,our world came to an end’

For 75-year-old Ranchhoddas Patel,it was not an easy moment to see one son going to jail to serve life term while another one coming out after spending two years in jail. His sons Kamlesh and Rajesh were arrested after the riots.

Old and ailing Leela Ba says,“When both my sons went to jail,our world came to an end. My husband who toiled all his life to raise our children had to go back to farming to earn money. Kamlesh is out (of jail) for last one year. Kamlesh is helping us but still he (Ranchhod) doesn’t rest; he still goes to the field.”

Kamlesh was acquitted last year by the Mehsana court while Rajesh remained behind bars since 2002. The witnesses in the case had testified against both brothers for coming under influence of BJP leader Prahlad Gosa and nagarpalika president Dahyabhai Patel to torch the houses of one Yusuf Sheikh,who lost 11 of his family members,including his one-and-a-half-year-old nephew.

“My husband was friends with Prahaladbhai and Dahyabhai,so what was wrong in that? They told us that we were protesting against Sabarmati Express riots (train burning) but there was no brief to kill Muslims in Dipda,” Leela adds.

Dipda Darwaza,now an all-Hindu village — Randel Mata no Delo (name of their deity) — doesn’t like to talk about Muslims. “It’s over and they are gone…” Leela says.

FACTFILE

Case: Dipda Darwaza (March 1,2002)

Verdict: July 30,2012

Convicted: 21 (sentenced to life imprisonment,one policeman to simple imprisonment)

Acquitted: 61

A mob killed 11 people,including four children and five women,at Dipda Darwaza in Visnagar. The bodies could not be recovered and were identified later from the pieces of flesh and ornaments found at Malav Talav on the outskirts.

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