Even as the Gujarat police failed to track down Godhra carnage death row convict Salim Zarda four days after he escaped during parole, three more life term convicts are on bail in the same case while the fifth, Haji Bilal, another death row prisoner, withdrew his bail plea because the conditions were toughened by the Gujarat High Court following the escape.
Zarda, who had sought parole on pretext of “fixing the collapsed roof” of his house in Godhra, was booked in a truck loot case in Vapi, days before his parole ended November 18, even as his family claimed they did not carry out the repairs.
Siddique Matunga and Shaukat Yusuf Mohan, convicts facing life term will visit next week for three days and 15 days, for reasons of building a house and “helping out the family financially” respectively.
Haji Bilal has decided to withdraw his bail plea as well as to cancel the marriage of his daughter after he was asked by the court to deposit over Rs 30,000 for police escorts. Haji was granted two-day bail to attend his daughter’s marriage on November 30.
Haji, who has visited Godhra twice on parole in the past without any police protection, was forced to take police escorts because he had applied for it just after Zarda was declared absconding. Siddique and Shaukat escaped Haji’s predicament because they had sought bail before Zarda’s jumping of parole became public.
“Haji decided to cancel his visit because his bail condition was hard and involved spending Rs 30,000 from his pocket on police escorts for just two days. He has also decided to cancel his daughter’s marriage and will inform the court about the same. The court put difficult bail conditions on him because Zarda escaped from police clutches,” said a relative of Bilal, requesting anonymity.
Anwar Maheda, who is facing life term, got lucky as he got out of jail on bail, the morning of November 18, and by same day evening Zarda was declared absconding. Out on a 15-day bail, Maheda said Zarda had put the jail inmates in trouble by behaving the way he did, since it may now be harder for other inmates like Bilal to seek temporary bail.
“This is the second time in 13 years since I was arrested that I am visiting Godhra. It is not hard for inmates to apply for temporary bail as long as they have a valid reason. However, with Zarda absconding, jail authorities and the court will be wary and may put difficult conditions before granting bail,” said Maheda, also out to “build a house” in Godhra.
According to police records, as many as 21 inmates currently facing life term and death sentence visited Godhra on temporary bail in 2014. As many as 31 were convicted in the Godhra train burning case of February 27, 2002 in which 59 persons had died. And 11 of the convicts are serving death sentence. All of them are lodged in Vadodara Central Jail.
“Jail inmates visit here regularly and mark their presence in a register at the B-division police station as per conditions set by the High Court. Zarda registered his presence till November 15, three days before his parole term ended, and five days after a loot offence was registered at Bhilad police station in Vapi,” police inspector, B-division, N V Patel said.
Zarda’s wife, Zohra was forced to divorce him two days after he was declared absconding, as per conditions he had set before his guarantor Salim Manki, an electrician employed with Western Railways, which raises suspicion that he may have planned his escape. Also, his father Yusuf Zarda says they were left penniless after paying the security and could not carry out repairs of the house.
Zarda’s family members said that he had given word to Manki, over mobile phone that he will divorce his wife in the event he failed to present himself before the prison authorities after his parole term ends on November 18.
“Salim had given word to his guarantor in the presence of a witness that he should be divorced from his wife in case he failed to turn up on time before the jail authority, and the matter is out in our community. We had no other option but to initiate the process of divorce. His wife has been kept under Iddat — a duration of four-and-half-month that a divorced woman has to spend under the veil to avoid seeing any male member before she starts another life,” Salim’s father, Yusuf Zarda said.
Hussain Ali, Zohra’s elder brother said he assured his sister that she should give up on her husband as he was in any case not present since he was a prisoner.
“He met his wife till the time he was here, three days before his parole term ended. He had promised her to go back to jail on time but failed to honour his promise. Had told his guarantor that he will divorce his wife if he jumped parole. We consulted the local priest, Mufti Saheb, who said that the oral divorce was valid as per the Shariat law. We have asked written order from the priest for our record,” Ali said.
Zarda was given parole from High Court on August 5 after depositing a surety bond of Rs 1 lakh and presenting a government employee as his guarantor. Manki said he had not known the family very well but agreed to become his guarantor after a common friend insisted on the same. Zarda came out of the jail three months later on November 3.