The muezzin’s call for evening prayer mixed with full-throated cries of “Comrade Mukul Sinha ko laal salaam” as a stream of visitors made their way to the Maharana Pratap Complex in the Paldi area on Monday. In the complex that housed his office, the leftist activist lay in state for friends, clients and colleagues to pay their last respects.
Sinha died on Monday afternoon after a long battle with cancer, leaving his body to the Gujarat Cancer Research Institute (GCRI). The physicist-lawyer was 62.
He also left behind unfinished battles for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots and alleged fake encounters by the state police, and an unbridgeable void in innumerable lives that he touched.
The plasma physicist who went on to become a voice for trade unionists, took on the Narendra Modi government through sustained cross-examination in the Nanavati-Shah Commission, literally driving the investigations into the Godhra train carnage and the communal riots that followed.
It was the riots, in fact, that pulled the man who was hitherto a labour activist and scientific researcher into the 2001 earthquake, into the field of civil rights.
“Modi gave us the agenda,” Sinha told this paper after his sixth chemotherapy last January.
Jan Sangharsh Manch, the organisation he had founded in 1990 under the umbrella of New Socialist Movement, fielded a core team of 20 activists and lawyers to take up riots cases. Sinha, who led this team, also contested the Gujarat assembly elections from Shahpur in 2007 and Sabarmati in 2012.
Sinha also fought in the courts and the Central Administrative Tribunal for IPS officers Mukul Sinha, who fought for 2002 riot victims, succumbs to cancer like Rajnish Rai and Rahul Sharma, who faced disciplinary action from the government in connection with alleged fake encounters.
He stood firmly by the victims’ families in various courts — among his clients were Gopinatha Pillai, the father of Javed Shaikh alias Pranesh Pillai who was killed along with Ishrat Jahan and two other men in an alleged fake encounter in 2004, Rubabuddin Sheikh, the brother of Sohrabuddin who was killed in 2005, and Narmadabai, the mother of Tulsiram Prajapati, who was killed in 2006.
On Monday, as Sinha breathed his last in Sterling Hospital, Pillai’s petition to arraign BJP general secretary Amit Shah as an accused was being heard.
In 2013, Sinha launched a website, http://www.truthofgujarat.com, to counter the alleged propaganda of the Gujarat government through reports, opinion and analysis that challenged the official version of the riots, encounters, the alleged snooping controversy involving Shah, and the “Gujarat model of development”.
Sinha, who obtained a Masters degree in Science from IIT Kanpur in 1970, taught in his hometown of Bilaspur till September 1973, when he joined the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad. The turning point in his life came in 1979, when PRL faced a lockout and 133 people were sacked.
Sinha took up their case, and launched the Federation of Employees of Autonomous Research and Development, Education and Technical Institutes (FEARDETI). Around the same time, he married his wife Nirjhari, who was then a scientific assistant in PRL.
“Maybe it is in my nature not to get along with the administration,” Sinha had told this paper. In 1985, he took up the study of law, and joined the bar in 1989. He mainly fought cases for slumdwellers, who were members of the Jan Sangharsh Manch.
His son Pratik, now 31, and wife Nirjhari, joined him in his mission. Nirjhari, who took voluntary retirement from PRL in 2008 to fight the cases of riot victims, is credited with the detailed analysis of the call data records (CDRs) which exposed the roles of former minister Maya Kodnani, Jaydeep Patel and others in the 2002 riot crimes.
She also went on to analyse CDRs related to the encounter cases, and demonstrated patterns in the calls made between the then minister of state for home Amit Shah and suspended IPS officers D G Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian and others, which became part of Sinha’s petitions.
As Sinha’s health failed, Pratik took charge of truthofgujarat.com, writing articles and posting transcripts of phone conversations related to the surveillance of a woman, allegedly ordered by the Modi government. He is survived by wife Nirjhari and son Pratik.