Special judge PB Desai who is hearing the Gulberg massacre case, visited Monday afternoon the society where 69 people were killed in the post Godhra riots on February 28, 2002, closely examining every nook and corner especially of Bungalow number-19, home to Congress’s ex-MP Ahsan Jafri, who was among those killed that day.
Many of the victims had taken shelter in Jafri’s house thinking it was the safest place considering Jafri’s status as a leader. The society which is covered with thick brush, was abandoned by all residents soon after the riots. Ahmedabad Municipal corporation authorities cleaned up and sprayed the premises with bleaching powder ahead of the judge’s visit.
Amidst heavy police presence and surrounded by lawyers from the prosecution, victims and defence, special judge Desai spent nearly 45 minutes. He went to the house of Jafri and inspected all the sites mentioned in the court records-the entrance, first floor and its terrace. The society, situated in the Chamanpura area of Meghaningar police station, was abandoned by its residents following the massacre.
“It is not a liveable place anymore but the AMC sweepers cleaned up everything ahead of the judge saheb visit. I saw such a mehfil (gathering) for the first time after several many years,” said Rafiq Mansuri, a riot survivor whose family was the last to abandon the society.
But Mansuri and his father still use the house as a godown and rest room. The father-son duo run a small cotton factory in the nearby area. A picture of Rafiq’s mother is hung at the entrance who was killed during the riots. Rafiq said he himself lost one of his eyes after he was attacked by the rioters.
The media was barred by the court to enter the society during the judge’s visit. The lawyers accompanying him said that he inquired about the details of the incident and the events described in the case records. Earlier in the day, during the proceedings, defence lawyer Abhay Bharadwaj questioned the authenticity of star witnesses when arguing on the issue of the alleged firing by Jafri. Bharadwaj argued that these witnesses did not mention anything about Jafri opening fire with his private gun, on the mob.
He said that the prosecution itself has cited that Jafri opened fire on the mob but not a single witness corroborated it in their statements which creates doubt on the authenticity of their testimonies. He said that when the mob of over 22,000 had gathered outside the society, amidst the tense situation, Jafri opened fire from his private revolver. Citing at least 20 police witnesses and bullets found subsequently, the firing instigated the mob to break open the wall of the society.
“Before this firing incident the mob had restricted themselves outside the society. There were stone pelting from both the sides but the mob didn’t force itself to enter the society. It was only after the firing by Jafri that instigated the mob” Bharadwaj argued. “This proves that the common intention of the mob was to enter the society, there was no common thought of the mob. Strangely, outside the society where the mob remained for five hours not one Muslim house were attacked,”he said.
The next hearing is due next week.