Tomorrow it will be 10 years since the Sabarmati Express burning at Godhra that set off the Gujarat riots. The train fire and the violence that followed took hundreds of lives. At least 250 were named as accused,and for the thousands who survived,justice has come to mean an arduous trek to courts hoping some of them will be convicted. In five of the nine cases probed by the Special Investigation Team (including the Sabarmati carnage) in which trial is currently on in Gujarat,that trek ends at the door of four women judges who have bravely kept hopes of many afloat,against numerous odds. The only conviction so far has also come in the court of one such judge.
The four: Swarnlata C Srivastava,Principal Judge,Mehsana District Court
In December 2011,in the first such conviction in a post-Godhra riot case investigated by the SIT,it was judge Srivastava who sentenced 31 landed Patels to life imprisonment for burning alive 33 Muslims in a room in Sardarpura,Mehsana. The order added that the killings were not premeditated.
Now she is presiding over trial in the Dipda Darwaja Massacre case in Visnagar,Mehsana,where 11 Muslims were burnt alive by a mob on February 28,2002. The accused here include former BJP MLA from Visnagar Prahlad Gosa.
A master of arts,who did a bachelors in law and diploma in labour laws and personnel management,Srivastava was also behind the conviction of six teachers of a primary teachers training college in Patan for the gangrape of a Dalit girl on the campus. She sentenced them to life and asked each to pay Rs 10,000 as compensation to the girl.
Before this,she had sentenced IPS officer Shabbir Khandwawala,Gujarats first Muslim DGP,to five years for a custodial torture case. Khandwawalas appeal is pending in the Gujarat High Court,though he is now retired.
Jyotsna Yagnik,Additional Principal Judge,Ahmedabad City Civil and Sessions Court
She presides over Gujarats biggest post-Godhra massacre case,Naroda Patiya,where 95 Muslims were killed in a single neighbourhood. Among the accused is ex-MLA Maya Kodnani. Additional Principal Judge Dr Jyotsna Yagnik,58,has to her credit convictions ranging from the famous Bijal Joshi gangrape and suicide to the ISI conspiracy case.
The Bilal Joshi case involved a 24-year-old girl being gangraped by friends at an Ahmedabad hotel on New Years eve in December 2003,who later killed herself. In June 2008,Yagnik convicted sentenced five of the boys to life imprisonment,including Joshis boyfriend.
In January 2010,as a judge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act,she had convicted 22 in the infamous ISI conspiracy case,clubbing together many incidents blamed on the Pakistani intelligence agency. Underworld don Dawood Ibrahim,Rasool Party and Chhota Shakeel were absconders in this case.
A commerce graduate,Yagnik did her masters in law and was conferred a doctorate for her research on discrimination against women.
A Gujarati,she practised law at the Gujarat High Court and other subordinate courts in Ahmedabad before becoming a judge in December 1999. She has also been principal at Ahmedabads I M Nanavati Law College while she is currently a visiting lecturer at Gujarat State Judicial Academy.
Dr Yagniks husband is an officer with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited and they have a son.
Gita Gopi,Principal District Judge,Sabarkantha district court
As judge at the family court in Surat,she would try to get fighting couples together using music therapy. Often,she made them write,trying to decipher their personality traits from their handwriting.
Having resorted to such innovations previously,Gita Gopi,45,Principal District Judge at Sabarkantha,was behind another recently when she cross-examined a former London-based British diplomat,Ian Reakes,on Skype over killing of British Muslims on February 28,2002. It was the first such deposition in the riots case. Another diplomat,Howard Parkinson,is due to depose similarly.
In January this year,she had imposed a fine of Rs 55 lakh on a polluting chemical company in Ahmedabad district.
Originally from Kerala,her family settled in Navsari district of south Gujarat,where Gopi was born. She has a bachelors in commerce and a masters degree in law. A direct recruit of the 2008 batch,she was the only woman to clear the Judicial Services Exam from Gujarat then. She became a judge after a 15-year practice in law and part-time lecturership at the Navsari law college.
When she came to Sabarkantha,the first thing she did was to design a website for the court,another rarity for a district court.
* Poonam B Singh,Additional District Judge,Anand District Court
Of the two massacre cases in Ode of Anand district,Singh is trying the one where 23 Muslims were burnt alive in two two-storey buildings by a Hindu mob on March 1,2002. The case,in which 47 people are being tried,is near a decision.
A commerce graduate,Singh did her bachelors in law from Gujarat University in 1992. She practised in various courts including the Gujarat High Court before becoming a judge in 2003.
Vadodara-based Singh came to preside over this case after the earlier woman judge,S Y Trivedi,was transferred in May 2011 after conducting most of the trial. She subsequently resigned from the judiciary under controversial circumstances.