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Gulberg massacre: 14-year battle for justice

Gulbarg society- burned in Gujarat 2002

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi : The abandoned cluster of rickety and burned walls, which once was home to upper-middle-class Gujarati Muslims in the Hindu-dominated Chamanpura of Ahmedabad, bears a mute witness to the harrowing journey for justice of families who lost their all in the massacre by a mob a day after the February 27, 2002, Godhra train burning episode.

And on Thursday when a court in Ahmedabad convicted 24 and pronounced 36 persons as innocent in the case, the families who have relentlessly been fighting the legal battle say justice is still not done.

Among them is Zakia Jafri, a frail 77-year-old widow who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle to get justice for the murder of her husband Ehsan, a former Congress MP, who along with 68 others, was hacked to death and later burnt.

“Complete justice has not been done. I will carry on the fight, will do whatever it takes,” Zakia said of her unending fight that began since the orgy of sectarian violence saw thousands of Muslim families devastated.

Zakia has seen way too many lows in her battle to bring the murderers to justice and pin the blame on the authorities for turning a blind eye to the weeks of the communal pogrom that saw about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead in 2002 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Gujarat chief minister.

Modi has denied the allegations and has been exonerated three times — in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — by Supreme Court-appointed panels.

Police in Gujarat was accused of refusing to act against the provocateurs. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its June 10, 2002, report pointed out the “lack of credibility” in the charge-sheets filed “inasmuchas they (charges) are reported to depict the victims of violence as the provocateurs”.

Some 67 people were arrested over the years. Of these, three accused died before the trial began on September 7, 2009, and six others passed away during the trial.

Three out of the total nine charge-sheets were found to be “defective”, and were challenged in the Supreme Court by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) that provides legal aid to the victim-survivors of those dark days of Gujarat.

The top court in November 2003 put on hold judicial proceedings after allegations were made that the state police was shielding the accused. In March 2008, the court constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by R.K. Raghavan, a former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director, to probe afresh nine riot cases, including the Gulberg massacre.

The probe panel was also authorised to examine Zakia’s complaint against then Chief Minister Modi and other Gujarat officials. But the probe got into a controversy after the Gujarat government appealed to the Supreme Court saying that it was exceeding its jurisdiction in examining Modi’s role.

Modi was questioned for two days on March 27-28, 2010, and an initial report was filed in February 2011. On May 5 that year, the Supreme Court asked newly appointed amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran to examine the probe panel report.

After about two months — on July 25, 2011 — Ramachandran submitted his report that was kept confidential. Meanwhile, the probe panel in February 2012 filed its final report before a trial court. The panel gave a clean chit to Modi in the Gulberg massacre.

Zakia filed a petition against the panel for giving a clean chit to Modi. On December 27, 2013, when the city court dismissed the plea, she took her battle against Modi to the Gujarat High Court in August 2015.

Meanwhile, the city court on September 22, 2015, concluded the trial in the massacre after prosecution examined 338 witnesses and the final arguments ended. Nine months later, 24 people were convicted and 36 acquitted for the massacre.

Those convicted will be sentenced on June 6.

But Zakia’s long trek to justice is unlikely to end any soon because she and others in the battle have longed to challenge the city court verdict. Those convicted also vowed to challenge the conviction.