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1990 custodial death case: Justice and god were on our side, says brother of ‘police torture victim’

Sanjeev Bhatt, a 1988-batch IPS officer who was then additional superintendent of police, Jamnagar district, was sent to Jamjodhpur town by then Superintendent of Police, TS Bisht, to maintain law and order during Bharat Bandh that day.

Written by Gopal B Kateshiya | Rajkot |
Updated: June 21, 2019 6:42:47 am
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It was in the night of October 30, 1990, that police came raiding at Pradhudas Vaishnani’s home in Station Plot area of Jamjodhpur town in Jamnagar district. Before anybody from the family could understand anything, police picked up Pradhudas and Rameshchandra, the eldest and the youngest of four brothers, and took them away, alleging they were part of a mob that indulged in rioting earlier in the day on a nationwide bandh called during BJP leader LK Advani’s rath yatra.

Advani launched the yatra in September 1990 from Somnath and it was to conclude on October 30 when a Bharat Bandh was called for. “Police picked them up as they were sitting in the osari (front portion of a house) while we were inside. My other brother Dhiru and I hid ourselves inside the house. The next day, we came to know that police had booked my brothers and 131 others under TADA,” Amrutlal Vaishnani, immediate younger brother of Prabhudas and a book-seller, says.

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Sanjeev Bhatt, a 1988-batch IPS officer who was then additional superintendent of police, Jamnagar district, was sent to Jamjodhpur town by then Superintendent of Police, TS Bisht, to maintain law and order during bandh that day. Alleging that they vandalised properties of minority community in the town, the police team arrested 133 persons from Jamjodhpur. Police then also alleged that Prabhudas was a functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Bhatt and other police officers allegedly beat up Prabhudas, 39, along with others in custoday and made them do sit-ups, crawl, etc., without even offering them water.

Contradicting Amrutlal’s version, Bhatt’s wife Shweta said in a release on Thursday, “After handling various incidences of violence across the state, and having ensured enforcement of curfew, Sanjiv Bhatt reached Jamjodhpur Police station at around 1.30pm on October 30, 1990, and was informed by CPI Bhanvad that a total of 133 people, including the deceased Prabhudas Vaishnani, were arrested by local police led by PSI Jamjodhour between 9.30am and 12.15pm from 15 separate incidents of mass communal violence and arson across the city, before Sanjiv and his staff reached Jamjodhpur Police Station.”

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Amrutlal says police were acting out of vengeance. “Earlier in the same month, jewellers of Jamjodhpur caught a thief red-handed when he attempted a theft in broad daylight. The jewellers called police and in response, PSI Sisodiya, then incharge of Jamjodhpur police station, went there. The jewellers requested the PSI to ensure that the thief was dealt with severely. But Sisodiya insulted the jewellers telling them that they were none to give him lecture. Feeling insulted, a group of around 400 people went to Jamjodhpur police station to make a representation to the PSI when instead of listening to him, he fired in the air. Thus a trust deficit was created between the police and residents of Jamjodhpur even before the bandh of October 30,” says Amrutlal.

Ramesh Kadivar, a resident of Jamjodhpur and now general secretary of Jamnagar district unit of the BJP, says, “I was an engineering student in LE College in Morbi and college was closed on bandh day. I was on way home in Jamjodhpur when police prevented us from entering the town. Police created such a terror in the town for three days that farmers didn’t dare venture out of their homes even to milch their cows and buffaloes or to relieve themselves.”

Amrutlal says that by the time his brothers were released on bail, they had renal problems. “My brothers were granted bail on November 8, 1990. But they had renal problems and we took them to doctors. Later we admitted them to Gondhiya Hospital (now NM Virani Wockhardt Hospital) in Rajkot. They were put on dialysis but Prabhudas died on November 18 due injuries he suffered at the hands of policemen,” says Amrutlal, 64.

Shweta’s said in the release, “The complaint filed by Amrutlal Vaishnani, an active member of the VHP/BJP falsely accusing Sanjiv, alleges that the arrested rioters were made to do sit-ups while in custody and were kept in an open chowk adjoining the police station. It is to be noted that on being presented before the nearest Magistrate by the local police on the October 31, 1990, no complaint of torture or any grievance was made by the deceased Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani or any of the other 133 arrested rioters.”

Amrutlal says that the state government withdrew the TADA case against all the accused in 1991-92. While fighting the legal battle, he also joined politics by becoming a registered member of the BJP in 1995 and was also appointed a director in Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO), an arm of the state government.

Amrutlal told The Indian Express that after Prabhudas’ death, he filed a complaint at Jamjodhpur police station, accusing Bhatt and other policemen of murdering his brother. “Back then, we were common farmers and mere sight of even a police constable would frighten us. But I was sure that my brother did not indulge in rioting and did nothing wrong in his life. Therefore, we filed a complaint. I knew that the accused were powerful police officers but I also knew that justice and god were on our side. It is the responsibility of the complainant to prove the case while the accused just defend themselves. We won this verdict, thanks to the support from the residents of Jamjodhpur. Everybody who is more than 40 years old Jamjodhpur today would still remember that day — October 30, 1990. Out of the 133 arrested, many died. But whoever was around always made it a point to depose as a witness in this case,” says Amrutlal who runs a book store in Jamjodhpur along with Prabhudas’ son Ankur, after the district and sessions court sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment on Thursday.

Amrutlal says that after Pradbhudas’ death, it fell upon him to take care of his elder brother’s widow Kanchan and their three children, Ajit, Kajal and Ankur who were eight, six and four years respectively when Prabhudas was arrested.

“We used to live in a joint family then. We were a family of around 20 members and used to earn our living by cultivating our five-acre land. After my brother’s death, I made sure that his children got good education. I sent Ajit to the MS University in Vadodara to do his B.Com. But Ankur dropped out after failing his Class X board examination,” says Amrut.

At present, Ajit runs a blacktrap quarry with partners in south Gujarat while Kajal is married and lives with her husband and in-laws. Kanchan lives with Ankur in Jamjodhpur. “We continued to live in a joint family until recently when Pradhuda’s children were well settled,” says the uncle.

Amrutlal says that PM Jani, a teacher at a government primary school, stood with him in his fight for justice. “Soon after the incident, leading figures of Jamjodhpur formed an action committee to fight police atrocities and PM Jani was appointed its chairman. He stood behind us like rock all these years. But it saddens me deeply that he died just 10 days ago at the age of 83. He could not see this day when justice was delivered,” says Amrutlal who had to abandon his studies while pursuing a degree.

Thanking prosecutors Bimal Chotai, Mohan Shiyani, Madhu Mehta, Tushar Gokani and Jaman Bhanderi for taking the case to its logical conclusion, Amrutlal says, “Justice could not have been delivered without their hard work. They persisted with the matter. With their help, I moved the Supreme Court on April 19 this year, pleading that it had been almost 30 years since the case was filed but justice was being delayed. The court granted our plea and directed Jamnagar court to pronounce its verdict in the case by June 20.”

Timeline of the case

October 30, 1990: Bharat Bandh declared, communal violence breaks out. 133 people arrested under various sections of TADA

Oct 31, 1990: All 133 arrested persons, sent to judicial custody until November 8, on orders of the magistrate

November 1, 1990: Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani complained to the jail authorities of back pain.He was treated by the jail doctors.

November 8, 1990: All the accused, including Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani, were released on bail

November 12, 1990: Prabhudas Vaishnani taken to a hospital in Jamnagar and then to Rajkot.

November 18, 1990: Prabhudas Vaishnani dies in hospital. FIR registered by his brother, Amrutlal Vaishnani

November 21, 1992: Additional DG CID (Crime) seeks sanction from Home Department to prosecute the accused.     (H P Singh and P P Pandey were CID investigating officers on the case).

March 22, 1995: Home Department issues letter refusing sanction to prosecute under section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

July 15, 1995: CID submits “A” Summary report, after government’s refusal to grant sanction for prosecution

December 20, 1995: Judicial Magistrate, First Class (JMFC) does not accept the “A” Summary report, orders sessions court to begin proceedings against accused.

January 9, 1996: State Government passes Government Resolution supporting Bhatt’s decision to challenge the JMFC’s order.

February 9, 1996: State government backs Bhatt, files criminal revision application on JMFC’s order

2004: Special Criminal Application filed by police officer Anopsinh Jethva. Gujarat High Court passes order directing sessions court to decide on merits of State’s revision application

September 2004: State Government does U-turn, passes order to withdraw criminal revision application

March 2005: State government again does an about face, cancels earlier order to withdraw criminal revision application

May 2011 to July 2011: Bhatt deposes before Nanavati and Mehta Commissions

July 8, 2011: State Government files a pursis (statement submitted to court) to withdraw the criminal revision application

2012: Framing of charges by sessions court begins

June 20, 2019: Sessions court convicts Sanjiv Bhatt and police constable Pravinsinh Zala under IPC section 302 (murder) and sentences them to life in prison.

(With inputs from Sohini Ghosh in Ahmedabad)

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