Half victory for Gulbarg massacre victims’ kin; court rejects conspiracy charges

New Delhi:More than 14 years after a mob of at least 5,000 massacred 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri in Gulbarg society – a posh area largely housing the minority community in Ahmedabad, Thursday’s judgment that convicted 24 and acquitted 36 evoked mixed reactions. Dropping of the charges of conspiracy for all those convicted left those affected distressed and aggrieved. Quantum of sentencing for those accused will be announced on June 6.

Barring one, with the deliverance of the Gulbarg judgment, almost all the judgments in the 2002 Gujarat riots have been cleared.

A Special Investigation Team (SIT), constituted to investigate 10 incidents of violence post the 2002-Godhra riots and monitored by the Supreme Court, held 67 people responsible for the Gulbarg massacre. Of those, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Atul Vaidya, though one of the convicted, escaped a murder charge, while among those acquitted were Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) corporator Bipin Patel and police inspector KG Erda, who had lodged the first FIR in the case and was later arraigned as an accused.

On the pronouncement of judgment, Jafri’s widow Zakiya commented, “I’m not satisfied with the court verdict. They should have punished guilty. I saw them doing it with my own eye. My fight should have stopped but looking at today’s judgment the fight will continue.” Jafri’s son Tanvir added, “I feel this entire incident was a conspiracy (against Muslims) because the police did not reach the spot even 10 hours after the incident. My mother’s petition is already pending in the Supreme Court and the Gujarat High Court. Therefore, I won’t comment now on whether my father got justice after this verdict or not.”

The conclusion of this horrific episode – considered by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to be one of the deadliest incidents of violence in Gujarat, along with the Naroda Patiya massacre, has been long awaited. Lawyers, civil rights activists, and journalists tirelessly worked on this issue, pushing for a verdict and justice for the victims.

“To an extent the conviction is welcome. However, dropping the conspiracy charge is a huge disappointment,” said former additional solicitor general (ASG) Indira Jaisingh. She further added, that by dropping the charge (conspiracy) more questions have risen that will never go away and the (then) commissioner of police (Gujarat) has lots to answer.

Activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been on the frontline of this battle, along with her organisation Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ) – whose legal team fought the case, stated that she will definitely “appeal against the acquittals”. Setalvad, who was in Ahmedabad for the pronouncement of judgment, said, “I have mixed reactions about this partial victory. However, I am satisfied the crime committed against the victims and survivors was acknowledged.” Drawing parallels against the Naroda Patiya judgment, where the conspiracy charge was upheld, Setalvad expressed her bewilderment against the dropping of charges in this case.

Former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) RK Raghavan, who headed the SIT, expressed his disappointment but refused to comment further until the judgment was released.

Shabnam Hasmi, who documented the testimonies of victims affected during the Gujarat riots that proved to be instrumental in validating the prosecution’s claim of violence observed that a massacre of this scale was not possible without prior planning, training and logistical support. “All the pieces (to initiate the massacre) were laid out like a chessboard. All that remained was the order to commence battle,” Hashmi said. Her statement validates her opinion that conspiracy was paramount to this massacre. “To claim that the mob acted spontaneously would be far-fetched since the pattern of killing and arson was repetitive in all the cases. It can also be deduced that the ‘mob’ was systematically trained,” she added.

Former journalist Ashish Khetan whose reportage and sting operations were instrumental in building a case against three accused responded by saying, “Despite my deposition where the accused confessed to killing Jafri, two of the three were acquitted.”

Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said, “It is half justice – not full justice (the verdict) because a BJP corporator – has been let free. Why he is being let free remains to be studied, analysed but in all such cases, our experience has been that the main mastermind somehow manages to get free and the foot soldiers, the people who take orders, are found guilty.”

‘I really hope my husband turns up and surrenders before police. He was out on parole and then he ran away. The police come to my house every day to find out about him’

_ Raima Kailash Kumar Dhobi, wife of principal accused in the Gulbarg massacre case. Kailash has jumped parole and his whereabouts are still not know.
With Agencies