IN THE murder trial against seven policemen, accused of killing nine persons at Suleman bakery during the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai, one of the partners of the bakery was declared a ‘hostile’ witness on Tuesday after he said he did not remember details of his statement or the incident.
Earlier, two other witnesses were declared hostile.
The now 75-year-old partner, Abdul Sattar Suleman Mithaiwala, who arrived in court on a wheelchair, said he did not recollect details due to the long passage of time, in response to most of the questions asked by the prosecution. He, however, told the court that five of the bakery employees had died and he had taken their bodies from the authorities for their last rites.
On January 9, 1993, police had allegedly entered and fired at people inside the building where the bakery was located, killing nine persons. Seven police officials, part of the team that entered the building, are facing trial on charges including murder. A probe was initiated into the case by a special task force only in 2001 after witnesses, including workers at the bakery, students and teachers of a nearby madrasa filed affidavits before the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission, which investigated the riots.
In the chargesheet, Mithaiwala’s statement was included. It was recorded on May 30, 2001. Mithaiwala on Tuesday said that he did not recall the content of the statement.
In his statement, Mithaiwala had given a description of the bakery and said there were 18-20 employees working there. The statement said 20-30 persons slept on the mezzanine floor of the bakery, including employees of other shops. The statement said that he was informed by a neighbour that a police team had entered the premises of the bakery, arrested the workers and there was also firing. Due to the curfew in the area, he could not go to the bakery but went there later with permission, according to Mithaiwala’s statement. It added that all material at the bakery was scattered.
The statement said that police had told him that some miscreants had entered the bakery and were firing at the police, due to which they fired back. In the firing, workers sustained injuries and were taken to the hospital, where they were declared dead.
Mithaiwala’s statement added that he had later met some injured workers, who said there was no firing from the bakery at the police but the police had forcefully entered and fired at some persons. In his statement, Mithaiwala had named the employees who died. On Tuesday, he said that he did not recollect their names.