Painful Path to Justice: Travails of Zakia Jafri

    By Ram Puniyani,

    The metropolitan court on 26th December 2013 exonerated Narendra Modi and 59 others for their complicity in the Gujarat carnage. Fully accepting the report of SIT (Special Investigation Team) the court endorsed the view of Modi and Government about their role in the carnage. The Court rejected a petition seeking the prosecution of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 communal riots case. There were varied reactions to this. Mrs Jafri broke down but vowed to continue her legal battle. She has alleged that Mr. Modi colluded with senior ministers, bureaucrats and the police to facilitate the communal violence that tore through the state. Narendra Modi stated that he felt relief for facing the trial by fire and also wrote a blog saying that he was shaken to the core by the violence, he felt ‘Grief’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Misery’, ‘Pain’, ‘Anguish’, ‘Agony’. Responding to the poor state of the justice delivery system in Gujarat social activist Mallika Sarabhai said today that it was “silly to have expected anything else but a clean chit” for Mr. Modi from a Gujarat court.” As per her everyone in Gujarat was “terrified of Modi’s vengeance”.

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    Just to recapitulate, the massive Gujarat violence which took the communal violence to harrowing depths, the open collusion of state and the perpetrators of violence stood nakedly for all to see. This was also the violence where the social activists took up the case of justice in a determined way leading to shifting of crucial cases outside of Gujarat as in the atmosphere of intimidation prevailing in Gujarat; the process of deliverance of justice is difficult. The SIT (Special Investigation Team) was formed under the Supervision of the Supreme Court, but those in the SIT could not rise up to the task of the objectivity in the process of interpretation of investigation. Interestingly as SIT gave ‘clean chit’ to Modi, the Amicus Curiae Raju Ramcnadran appointed by Supreme Court stated that there is enough evidence in the report to prosecute Modi under different clauses. Immediately after the judgment was out the BJP activists celebrated by bursting crackers and Modi tweeted, ‘Satyamev Jayate’, (Truth wins). Interestingly there seem to be different truths depending on which side of the divide you are. While ‘Modi’s truth’ seems to have won for the time being the truth of Zakia Jafri and thousands of victims of Gujarat is struggling to get justice.

    The same events are seen in different light for different people. In the aftermath of the verdict the BJP spokesmen have been aggressively defending the verdict. The press release by Teesta Setalvad (Citizens for Justice and Peace), which is helping Zaki Jafri, gave a detailed account of the petition. This petition shows that the team of lawyers has done their job well. The petition points out the that state had deliberately ignored the signal which indicated the build up towards disaster.. They produced concrete evidence, fax messages, telephone call records amongst others to show that state administration was in the know of the aggressive behavior of the returning Kar Sevaks who were giving provocative slogans.

    The rowdy nature of the Kar Sevaks was documented. The words and deeds of the Chief Minister, who now seems to be projecting as if it was a period of pain, is contrary to his actions during that time. That time he openly alleged the role of International terrorism, Pakistan’s ISI and local Muslims in the burning of the train. He created a provocative atmosphere by involving the VHP in the episode. The post mortem of the bodies was conducted in the open in the presence of RSS-VHP workers. Modi himself instigated the communal forces by giving statements like, ‘every action has a reaction’. This statement is being denied now for political reasons. In the meeting attended by top officials he did ask the administration to sit back as the reaction of Hindus will take place. Haren Pandya who testified to the Concerned Citizen’s Tribunal and told this to the tribunal was murdered later. Other official Sanjeev Bhatt has also testified the same. The military was called in late and not deployed properly; many severely hit areas were left out. During this time Modi went on to say the ‘they are being taught a lesson’. Modi’s body language during that time did not show any signs of pain or anguish. It was more of a triumphant man riding on the wave of success.

    Sting operations have also shown the role of communal forces and collusion of state machinery. Dr. Maya Kodnani, Modi’s cabinet colleague and Babu Bajrangi of VHP are currently serving life term for their crime. During the process of relief also, the state shirked from its responsibility by saying that the refugee camps are ‘children manufacturing centers’. The Godhra train burning was called an act of terrorism and the carnage was treated as mere violence. The violence victims are now living in abysmal conditions in the ghettoes like Juhapura. With the help of propaganda all these ‘truths’ of Gujarat are being pushed under the carpet. Any criticism of the state leadership and policy is being projected as the insult of the people of Gujarat. The majority community has been made to feel insecure through the propaganda unleashed by the communal forces.

    Many other culprits got clean chit at lower courts but law did catch up with them in due course as in the case of Maya Kodnani. Same state saw the spate of fake encounters, the ones like that of Ishrat Jahan. Many top police officers of the state are behind the bars for their collusion with the divisive agenda, Vanjara and company. Sarabhai correctly depicts the picture of the justice in Gujarat. So it is a battle between two sets of truths, the truth of Modi on one side and that of Zakia Jafri on the other. Modi benefitted from the whole tragedy as at first, the tottering BJP hold became stronger in Gujarat. Then through a carefully orchestrated propaganda of development he came to position himself as the prime ministerial candidate of BJP. Zakia Jafri and the score of victims who lost their near and dear one’s, lost their home and hearth and have to live in the dark tunnels of the haunting memories of what happened to them during the violence.

    Yes truth of the one’s wronged; the one who are victims should prevail. This is the beginning of the battle for justice and the resolve of Mrs Jafri and the social activists supporting her is not just for her personal grief but also for the cause of justice all over the state. Surely one hopes ‘their’ truth will prevail in due course.

    (Ram Puniyani is the author of Contours of Hindu Rashtra: Hindutva, Sangh Parivar And Contemporary Politics. 2006. Kalpaz Publications.)