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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

CBI says Gujarat police responsible for hushing up evidence in rape, murder case 
By M Mazharul Haque

New Delhi: The CBI summoned two Gujarat police officers RS Bhagora and RM Bhabhor for questioning on March 17. A fast-track court in Ahmedabd had earlier rejected the anticipatory bail petitions of Bhagora and Bhabhor and another police officer Idris Abdullah. They had filed bail petitions fearing arrest by the CBI for their alleged role in conducting "poor investigation" into the rape and murder case of Bilkis and her relatives. 
Gujarat riot
The CBI on Feb. 25 had submitted a report in the Supreme Court indicting the Gujarat police for destroying evidence of rape of Bilkis Yakoob Rasool, and evidence of rape of her eight women relatives who were raped and killed with her other family members at Panivela village near Ahmedabd, six days after the Godhra incident. The mob had brutally murdered Bilkis' 14 relatives.

The report said that the CBI had arrested the guilty policemen who conducted a probe into the incident. It was also probing the role of other police officers for trying to brush the case under the carpet, the report said.

The 30-page report detailed the progress made by the agency. It contained medical report of the Godhra medical college, which confirmed the gang rape of Bilkis. 

Continuing laxity on the part of state police, the security of Bilkis and the witnesses was in jeopardy. The witnesses were so afraid that they requested the CBI to keep their meeting secret, the report added.

A two-judge bench of Justices S Rajendra Babu and GP Mathur granted the CBI three more months to complete its probe and submit a fresh report. The agency had sought more time saying secret investigations had delayed its probe.

The CBI had revived investigations into the case on apex court's direction. Bilkis had petitioned SC for reopening of the case after Gujarat police closed it. She said in her petition that police officers probing the case were partisan and had submitted a flawed report to the trial court.

Initially, Gujarat government was reluctant to a probe by the CBI. It was only on December 16 last year that it agreed for a probe by the CBI. 

The CBI had disclosed on February 8 that it found several packets of salt while exhuming corpses from a mass grave in Dahod. It is suspected that dead bodies of Bilkis' relatives were dumped here. Eye witnesses had told the CBI that a Gujarat police head constable Nalpat Singh had ordered them to bring 60 kg of salt to get rid of the bodies in March 2002.

The salt was used for early disintegration of the bodies. But it could not happen because the moisture content in the soil was high.

Some pieces of clothing were also exhumed and they were featured in photographs taken after post mortem.

The CBI managed to get seven photographs of the seven corpses supposedly of Bilkis' relatives, some clothes on them and some covered with "coarse, unstitched" cloth. The photographs were in the possession of a local photographer, RK Soni from Limkheda in Dahod district. The agency approached him after interrogation of 12 suspects in its custody.

The CBI is investigating the angle of suppression of evidence by the Gujarat police in the case, the recovery of the garments can prove to be incriminating for it.

The Gujarat police had cut pieces of the garments and sent them for chemical analysis after the killings. As per procedure, they should have sent the entire garments for tests to be conducted on them to find blood and semen stains.
Soni's photographs show coarse cloth covering some bodies because the Gujarat police had sent the cut pieces of their clothes possibly to cover up the evidence.

An executive magistrate from Limkheda taluka has also filed an anticipatory bail at a local court fearing arrest by the CBI in the Bilkis Bano case. 

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