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Naroda Patiya verdict: a hard-won victory

By Dr. Shakeel Ahmad,

On Friday, country welcomed judgment in Naroda Patiya massacre case of Gujarat, in which special court convicted 32 persons. The judgment is very significant since country has seen many riots and carnages, but for the first time big political leaders faced the heat for the acts committed. The credit for this hard-won victory goes to the witnesses who stood with courage against all odds and to various organizations who provided them with necessary sustenance.

IRCG has built 1,321 new homes and repaired 4,946 homes damaged or destroyed during the 2002 riots. ICRG board in Naroda Patiya [TCN Photo]

During Gujarat Carnage-2002, Naroda Patiya witnessed most gruesome incidences accounting for most deaths and enormous property loss. Thus, the Naroda Patiya case was very prominent in the mind and heart of all the organizations like Islami Relief Committee Gujarat (IRCG), Action Aid, St. Xavier Social Service Society (SXSSS), Gujarat Sarwajanic Relief Committee (GSRC), etc., working for relief and rehabilitation. Coordination committee of around 40 NGOs was formed and for better efficiency, distribution of tasks among NGOs was done. In this distribution of tasks, IRCG was assigned task for rehabilitation of the victim survivors and some legal work like providing basic legal assistance to the victims of Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaam. Thus, IRCG did Herculean task of reconstructing and repairing 550 houses of Muslims, 75 of non-Muslims, along with a community center, a mosque and a madrassa at Naroda Patiya, and 35 houses and a mosque at Naroda Gaam.

During the course of action, it was felt that the pre-condition to success of any case against the culprits was that the witnesses are saved from any fear or allurement coming over them. Thus, separate project for witness protection was taken up under convenorship of IRCG in coordination with Action Aid and SXSSS under which all the important witnesses of Naroda Patiya and other major incidences were shifted to rehabilitation colonies at Vatva and Juhapura. Also, efforts were made to tackle financial needs of victims-witnesses, so that they could be saved from allurements coming from the culprits.

The task of keeping keen eye on police investigation in Naroda was taken care by Action Aid, where Adv. Somnath Vatsa played laudable role. With regards to Naroda Patiya case, Adv. Somnath Vatsa had prepared very detailed report on the charge-sheet and had brought out all the lacunas of the charge-sheet. Day-to-day need for legal assistance to victims/witnesses was taken care by Action Aid advocate. Just after some days of carnage, it became very evident that police was not doing truthful and wholehearted investigation to book the culprits in the case. Not only investigation of Naroda Patiya case, the investigations in other major cases like Visnagar, Sardarpura, Dipda Darwaja etc. appeared shoddy and just cover-ups. In year 2007, Tehelka released tapes of its sting operation, Operation Kalank which played a huge role in bringing out the culprits to open, bragging their misdemeanors on camera and admitting to crimes committed by them. Tehelka in its report has given credit to adv. Somnath for his collaboration in their analysis of police investigation and charge-sheet.

Thus, to fix this issue, IRCG along with NHRC filed petition before Supreme Court seeking reinvestigation in major cases and transfer of major cases out of State. In 2008, SC appointed SIT for reinvestigation of 9 major cases of Gujarat carnage, including Godhra train case, Naroda Patiya, Dipda Darwaja-Visnagar, etc.

Since 2008-09, Citizens for Justice and Peace started to take interest and intervened in Gujarat cases. Much help and assistance was received from their efforts. Subsequently, the role of CJP increased gradually and other organizations went into backdrop.

Looking back at the chain of events in Naroda Patiya and other cases, there were two major incidences which could have jeopardized success of the case. The first, when due to imprudent activities of a well-known lady social worker, some very important witnesses of the case were arrested by police at Vatva, Ahmedabad. However, the said matter was resolved with great wisdom and the said witnesses were got released from clutches of police. And the second incidence, when there was infighting in CJP, and resultantly complaints were filed alleging witnesses tutoring etc. It was very possible that like Baroda Best Bakery case, witnesses in this case to get convicted. However, the problem was successfully solved and the case of Naroda Patiya could be saved from infighting at CJP.

In this way, through coordinated efforts by all the above organizations like IRCG, Action Aid, SXSSS, GSRC, CJP, etc., the victims of Naroda Patiya received some justice. Also the judgment in Naroda Patiya case will hopefully serve as deterrent for the future riot mongers.

Also, despite the Naroda Patiya case verdict being hailed from all the quarters, it has to be said that the police persons who helped during riots, who carried out cover-ups during investigation, and many political leaders like Jaydeep Patel and Govardhan Jadhafiya despite being named by the witnesses, remained out of clutches of prosecution.

The moral of the story is that to attain justice in the Indian situation, it requires a comprehensive assistance (covering all the needs of the victims) and coordinated efforts (by all NGOs fighting for justice) and long sustainable and untiring effort.

Dr. Shakeel Ahmad is the Chairman of the Islami Relief Committee Gujarat. The article was narrated by Dr. Ahmad and written down by Harith Ansari, a victim of Gujarat Pogrom.