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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Godhra Riots: Epicentre 2002

59 passengers were killed in the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. In the riots that followed, nearly 1,200 people were killed.

Written by Kumar Anand | Godhra | Published: February 28, 2015 3:09:57 am
godhra jundtion, godhra riot Thirty one persons were convicted by a special trial court in February 2011.

February 27, Friday. Train number 19168, Sabarmati Express, chugged into Godhra railway station, two hours late. Instead of its scheduled arrival at 12.10 am, it pulled into platform number one at 2.03 am, for a five-minute halt on its way to Ahmedabad.

Thirteen years ago, on this day, it had run five hours late, arriving at 7.40 am on the same platform instead of its scheduled arrival at 2.55 am and left a trail of blood.

On February 27, 2002, the S-6 coach was overcrowded – 130 passengers in place of 72. Not as crowded on Friday, even that early most of the passengers were seated, three, on a seat meant for one, waiting for the train to move on. Fifteen of them were a group of followers from the Swaminarayan sect from Ayodhya in this coach, the remaining 50 of their group spread in other coaches. They were returning from Chhapaiya, a village in Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh, 40 kilometres from Ayodhya, which is the birthplace of Swaminarayan. Not everyone in that coach knew its significance, or realised that its running late would mean a specific date.

One in this group, Ashish Patel, owner of a mineral water plant in Surendranagar, who stepped down to stretch himself, said, “I knew the significance of travelling from Ayodhya on the S6 coach of Sabarmati Express, but it did not occur to me that I will reach Godhra station on February 27, the same day the coach was burnt in 2002. This was not on my mind at all.”

Dhirendra Singh, another S6 passenger, was returning from Muzaffarpur in Bihar and on his way to Surat where he works in a shipping company. He was hardly aware of what had happened to this train at this station. “I know there were riots in Godhra and elsewhere in Gujarat in 2002, but does it have anything to do with S6 coach?” he said.

Three convicts facing life imprisonment — Irfan Siraj Pada, Qasim Abdul Sattar and Suleiman Hussain Pir — got out on regular bail last year. Abdul Rehman Dhantiya was also granted bail two years ago.

Dead Coaches

The burnt remains of the original S-6 and S-7 coaches lie on the outer limit of the railway station, their entrances closed by barbed wires. Four railway police personnel guard the coaches round the clock. On Friday morning, around a dozen police personnel reached the spot as part of special bandobast for the day.

This anniversary was far more mellowed down than previous years, when VHP leaders would organise a rally and assemble to pay homage to the dead kar sevaks. Shambhu Prasad Shukla, a senior member of the VHP in Godhra, said that he had written to the railway police this time, saying that the VHP would not organise any public event at the site of the burnt coach on February 27, marking a shift in the practice carried out by the Hindu organisation on Godhra carnage anniversary every year since 2002.

However, a dozen working members of the VHP arrived at around 11 am to pay homage, keeping the event low-profile.

Rajendra Trivedi, another senior member of the VHP, said the organisation decided to keep the event small as people did not have the time. “In the past, around 100 members would gather at Garba Chowk in the city and drive on two-wheelers to the site of the burnt coach to pay homage. Now, people do not have time to give an hour or two to pay respect to the dead. But we continue to offer symbolic respect to the departed for the cause of humanity,” Trivedi said. The VHP also organised Sundar Kand recitation by religious leader Ashwin Pathak at a ground on Ankleshwar Maharaj Road, a practice they have followed during years following the incident.

Case Study

Godhra Train Carnage: Fifty nine persons were burnt alive after a mob had attacked S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express train near Godhra Railway Station on February 27, 2002. Thirty one persons were convicted by a special trial court in February 2011. Eleven of them were sentenced to life imprisonment whereas, 20 were awarded life imprisonment by the trial court. The criminal appeals in the case are pending before the Gujarat High Court and a division bench of the court recently started day-to-day hearing on the appeals. Four of the convicts have been granted bail either by the Supreme Court or the Gujarat High Court. One of the convicts died during pendency of the appeals. Recently, a death row convict, Salim Zarda, who had jumped parole in November, was arrested after nearly three months.

Sardarpura Massacre: In November 2011, a special trial court had convicted 31 persons for murder as part of unlawful assembly in the case and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Criminal appeals against the judgment are pending before the Gujarat HC. Sometime back, the HC had refused bail applications of the convicts, following which the convicts approached the SC. Sardarpura massacre was reported on the night of March 1, 2002, at the Shaikh Vaas locality of Sardarpura village in the Vijapur taluka of Mehsana district. A mob of around 1,500 people had allegedly attacked the minority locality with 15-20 houses. Total 33 persons were charred to death in the massacre.

Dipda Darwaja Massacre: Total 11 persons were killed in the massacre reported from the Visnagar town of Mehsana district of north Gujarat on February 28, 2002. A special trial court had, in July last year, convicted 22 persons in the case, acquitting 61 others. Those acquitted from the case include former BJP MLA Prahlad Gosa. Eleven of the convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court. One accused, the then police inspector of Visnagar police station and first investigator of the case — M K Patel — was convicted under the charge of dereliction of duty and sentenced to one year imprisonment. He was later released on bail. Both state government and the convicts have moved appeals against the judgment before the HC and it’s still pending. All the remaining 21 convicts in the case serving life sentence were granted regular bail by a division bench of Gujarat HC in December 2013.

Ode Massacres: In one of the two separate incidents of communal violence in Ode town of Anand district, 24 persons were charred to death at Pirawali Bhagol locality of the town on March 1, 2002. The trial of the case was conducted by a special trial court which had convicted 23 of the total 46 accused. All of them were sentenced to life imprisonment. Remaining 23 were acquitted by the court. The appeals against the judgment are pending before the Gujarat HC and all the convicts are lodged in jail.

In the second massacre, three persons from minority community were burnt to death by a mob near Malav Bhagol area on March 1, 2002. Forty one persons were tried, of which 31 were acquitted and the remaining 10 were convicted. Nine of the convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment while one was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. The nine convicts facing life imprisonment are in jail and appeals against the trial court’s judgment are pending before Gujarat HC. Currently, a court is conducting trial against three other accused who were earlier absconding. One of them, who was in Singapore, had surrendered before the police. Two others were arrested by the police from the United Kingdom and Australia.

Gulberg Society: This case is being tried by the fourth judge. Earlier, three judges heard the case, but the order remained pending because of SC stay. Last year, the apex court lifted the stay and ordered for a day-to-day trial. Sixty-nine people, all residents of Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, including former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, were killed in this post-Godhra massacre. Jafri’s widow Zakia’s petition, seeking to book then CM Narendra Modi and 61 others for their role in the riots, was investigated by the SC-appointed SIT, which found nothing incriminating against Modi. The SIT gave a clean chit to Modi which was upheld by a metropolitan court in 2013.

Riots Investigators

Justice (retired) G T Nanavati: As chairman of the two-member commission appointed by the state government to probe into the 2002 Godhra train carnage case and subsequent communal riots in Gujarat, Justice (retired) G T Nanavati, who had also headed a judicial commission to probe into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots of Delhi, submitted the final report of the 2002 Gujarat riots without summoning the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to the commission stating that it was not needed. He had given a clean chit to the Modi government in the Part I of the inquiry into the Sabarmati Express carnage of February 27, 2002, which had said that it did “not find anything therein establishing any connection between them and the burning of S-6 of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra”, in 2007. This view was quite the opposite of his verdict in the anti-Sikh riot case where he saw former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination as a provocation for the riots. His 1984 inquiry witness list also had eminent personalities like former PM P V Narasimha Rao, unlike the Gujarat riot report. After submitting the report as the chairman of the two-member commission, Nanavati now spends time in legal arbitration. Both his sons, Dhaval and Maulik, are representing Gujarat Government in different cases in the Gujarat High Court. The final report lies with the government which is yet to be tabled before the state Assembly.

Himanshu Shukla: This 37-year-old IPS officer, who has been the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) of the Ahmedabad crime branch since 2010, was the investigating officer in the preliminary inquiry against then CM Narendra Modi in the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, for his alleged role in 2002 riots. Shukla has also been handling the biggest riot massacre investigations of Gulberg Society, Naroda Gam, Prantij and others, as part of the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, among others. In 2012, during state Assembly polls, the election commission transferred him out of the city, but the order was withdrawn, citing the criticality of the cases he was handling, and he remained in the DCB. The misappropriation case against Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad, her husband Javed Anand and others is being investigated by the DCB. Shukla is hailed as the youngest policeman in the state to have dealt with sensitive cases. He is also a favourite in the current political dispensation. He is also a member of the special investigation team that probed the fake encounter case in Porbandar during the ’90s, involving IPS officer Satish Verma. This case was opened up after Verma’s investigation in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case provided breakthroughs to the CBI which was later given the probe. Alongside, Shukla is busy supervising the ongoing renovation of the heritage fortress called the Gaekwad Haveli which houses the DCB office and is set to be turned into a museum dedicated to two local icons of communal harmony —  Vasantrao Hegisthe and Rajab Ali Lakhani.

The Activists

Teesta Setalvad: The founder of Mumbai-based NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), was among the first activists to take up the cases of riot victims in Gujarat in 2002, finally leading the Supreme Court to set up a special investigation team to probe the post-Godhra riots, six years later, under former CBI director R K Raghavan. Teesta took on then CM Narendra Modi head on when in March 2007, in a special criminal application before the Gujarat HC, she named herself as a co-petitioner of Zakia Jafri, who had sought an FIR against Modi and 61 other politicians, bureaucrats and police officers for their roles in the 2002 riots. She also sought CBI inquiry against Modi. The petition and Setalvad’s locus standi in the case were rejected, but she moved the apex court which asked the SIT to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. However, her falling out with Rais Khan, formerly a CJP member, saw him getting back with allegations of tutoring witnesses. The animosity continued, splitting apart the victims of Gulberg Society, part of whom have accused Setalvad of swindling funds collected to set up a Museum of Resistance at the Gulberg Society, a case in which she faces arrest. A few key witnesses in Gulberg Society case, Feroz Khan Pathan, brother Imtiaz and father Saeed, filed a complaint against Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, Tanveer Jafri, son of slain Congress ex-MP Ahsan, and two others at the Crime Branch. Before the tide turned against her, Setalvad had worked with the SIT for protection of riot witnesses and helped find a missing boy from Gulberg Society, Muzaffar, raised as Vivek with his new mother who adopted him. The SC has stayed her and Anand’s arrest for now.

Mukul Sinha: A leading face of legal battle for the 2002 riots’ victims, Mukul Sinha, the physicist-lawyer with a left leaning, succumbed to cancer on May 12, 2014, days before the victory of the BJP under the leadership of the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, whom he had sought to be investigated by a judicial commission. Sinha’s scientific probe into the Godhra train carnage, Naroda Patiya cases, his cross-examination of witnesses before the state government-appointed judicial commission, headed by retired SC judge Justice G T Nanavati, had raised several questions on the official versions. He was among the first to question the conspiracy theory in the case. In 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre, Sinha, under the group — Jan Sangharsh Manch — founded by him, defended victims and presented mobile phone records as evidence that helped high profile arrests like then minister, Maya Kodnani. Sinha opened up a front against the Modi government in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsiram Prajapati, Ishrat Jahan and Sadiq Jamal encounter cases. Amit Shah, who was one of the accused arrested in the Sohrabuddin case, was discharged recently by a Mumbai court. Sinha had also defended IPS officers Rahul Sharma and Rajnish Rai when they faced departmental action before CAT. Sharma had submitted critical evidence in 2 CDs, containing phone call records during 2002 riots to the Nanavati and Banerjee commissions and also testified before the SC appointed-SIT.

Naroda Patiya: Former BJP minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi are among the 31 convicts serving life sentence who have challenged their conviction by a designated trial court in 2012. Their appeal for acquittal is pending in the Gujarat HC. On July 30, last year, a division bench of HC released Kodnani on bail which was followed by bail to her then personal assistant Kirpal Singh Chhabda on Thursday. Ninety-seven residents of Naroda Patiya were killed on February 28, 2002. Following the bails, the court is likely to start hearing on appeal petitions soon.

Maya Kodnani, a prime accused: BJP leader Maya Kodnani (60), a gynaecologist, is the first politician and a former minister to be convicted in communal riot case. In 2012, she was convicted for life (28 years imprisonment), along with 30 others, for their roles in Naroda Patiya massacre in which 97 persons were killed. After serving more than two years at Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad, she was granted bail by a division bench of the Gujarat HC in July last year. Kodnani is also the most high-profile accused, along with Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi in Naroda Gam riot case, which is under trial. The court granted her bail on the grounds of her deteriorating medical condition and also considered the evidence where 11 witnesses against her, who testified her presence at the scene of offence. Following the sentencing, Kodnani went into depression and reportedly developed suicidal tendencies, for which she was given two sessions of electro-convulsive therapy under general anaesthesia. “Her condition is improving,” said a family source. In Naroda Gam, the trial has exempted her from appearing in day-to-day trial due to her condition.

Naroda Gam: Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and Kishan Korani, who were sentenced to life in Naroda Patiya riot case, are also facing trial, along with 79 other accused in the Naroda Gam massacre case. In this case, 11 Muslims were killed during the riots in Ahmedabad. A special court is about to complete the cross-examination of witnesses. According to SIT, the matter is likely to be up for final arguments by May.

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