Fifty-year-old Havribibi struggles to sit on the low cot outside her hut, using for support the stumps that were once her hands. She lost them 13 years ago when, on March 2, 2002, a mob hacked at them a little above her wrists.
Havribibi was among the 34 injured in the violence in Sesan Nava village in Deodar taluka of Banaskantha district in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning two days earlier. Fourteen Muslims were killed in the riots, and two Hindus died in firing by the police.
On February 13, a local court acquitted all 70 accused in the Sesan Nava attack after witnesses turned hostile, and the police failed to produce material evidence against the rioters.
“There must have been around 4,000 or 5,000 of them, I couldn’t count the numbers. They came with swords and rifles and pistols, and started to set homes on fire. The women were screaming, and the men were running to find a place to hide the children,” Havribibi said.
She lost her hands, Havribibi said, before she could run away. She remembers the hacking blows, the blood, and the sight of them falling to the ground.
“Hau, hau (Yes, yes), I remember everything. I saw my hands fall to the ground, and the gushing stream of blood. I collapsed, thrashing about in pain. There was blood everywhere, only blood and fire. They started torching houses, and in no time, 14 of our people were dead,” she said.
The arid, dusty village deep inside Deodar taluka is home to over 1,000 Muslims who migrated from Balochistan several generations ago. The taluka is now dominated entirely by Hindu Darbars and Thakors, and the tall, dark and brown-eyed residents of Sesan Nava are the only Muslims there. The communal divide is complete.
Bhalsinh Parbatsinh, the nephew of Hiraji Savaji, one of those acquitted but now dead, told The Indian Express on Sunday, “My uncle was simply walking on the road, and the police picked him up on suspicion of involvement in the violence. The mob was so huge that no faces in them could be recognised, but the Muslims blamed us only because we live barely half a kilometre away, and they knew us.
“They (the Muslims) have always been a nuisance to the village,” Parbatsinh said. “My uncle was in jail for seven years before being released on bail.”
Hiraji, who died in 2013, was among the nine accused who got bail that year. A batch of 51 others were released separately on bail, while 10 were jailed in Palanpur sub-jail for 12 years before Sessions Judge V K Pujara passed his order on Friday.
Among the Muslim families of the village, the anger at the acquittals was palpable. Despite the simmering hostility towards the Hindus, some of the Baloches had decided to “compromise”, and there was frustration at the “sellout”.
“After the riots, a BJP leader came to the Deodar darbar (an informal court), and suggested a compromise with the Hindus. It was done on condition that after that deal, not a single incident of violence from either side would be perpetrated, and that any incident would break the deal immediately,” Mohram Khan Baloch, who was the sarpanch of the village during the 2002 riots, said.
“We, however, didn’t take back the complaints. But a few among us, including the complainant in the case, sold out,” Baloch added.
The complainant in the case was Hajikhan Allahbaksh Baloch. He, and a few other Muslim residents, refused to identify the accused in court. Hajikhan’s house was locked on Sunday. Neighbours said he was away attending a wedding.
Another resident, Rustam Khan, who was among those who had refused to “compromise”, expressed frustration at the outcome. “I fought for the people of my community, but they were lured by false promises. The Hindus came to promise peace after they had killed our people. It was a sham, just a ploy to escape the case,” he said.
Rustam showed a pile of applications he said he had made to courts. “I went to the High Court with names of 35 people who were not arrested by the police, but in vain. Even those arrested got bail due to the compromise. Some people like Haji (the complainant) managed to influence people with money and scare them by saying they’d all be killed, and changed statements. Haji cheated all of us,” he said.
Defence lawyer B K Joshi said, “It is true that a compromise was brokered between the groups by Gumansinhji Vaghela, (scion of the erstwhile royal family) who is also a BJP leader. This was done only to bring peace to the two communities, and the Muslims agreed. The village collected money as compensation, and gave Rs 1.50 lakh to the family of every deceased, and Rs 50,000 to the injured, apart from the government’s compensation.”
Joshi insisted the compromise did not affect the case. The acquittals were purely for want of evidence. However, he agreed that the Hindus had the support of “political parties”. He claimed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had gone back on a promise to pay lawyers to defend the accused, but he had taken up the case for free because several of those arrested were “poor farmers who were framed in the case”.
Prosecution lawyer D V Thakor, on the other hand, said, “The compromise made the victims turn hostile. They did not recognize the accused during court proceedings, and said that they hadn’t been able to see the faces of the rioters.”
Thakor said that 63 of the 190 witnesses in the case were victims who initially testified against the accused. As many as 59 of them, however, subsequently retracted from statements made to the police during investigations.
The Sesan Nava case was not among those probed by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT. Eight investigators from the Gujarat Police probed this case, the last investigator being Deputy SP M B Ojath.