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

Gujarat riots cases
20 chargesheeted in Bilkis case, Gujarat objects to transfer of Best 

New Delhi: The CBI filed a chargesheet on April 19 in the gang rape of Bilkis Bano, rape of her eight women relatives, who were murdered along with a total of her 14 family members at Panivela village six days after Godhra incident.

The chargesheet was filed in a designated court at Dahod near Ahmedabad. The investigating agency named 20 persons in the chargesheet. The accused have been charged under Sections 120-B, 302 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code for conspiracy, murder and rape.

In another Gujarat riots related development, the Gujarat government petitioned the apex court on April 21 seeking modification of SC's order transferring the Best Bakery case to a Maharashtra court. Additional solicitor-general Mukul Rohtagi put the state government's contention before the bench headed by the Chief Justice that heard the NHRC's petition for transfer of 12 more cases from Gujarat. The Supreme court had ordered the transfer of Best Bakery case to Maharashtra on a petition of the key witness Zahira Sheikh. 

The timing of filing of the chargesheet in the Bilkis Bano case assumes importance as it refreshes memories of anti-Muslims pogrom in February-March 2002. The chargesheet came on the eve of the first phase of the general elections also. 

Twelve of the accused are those named in the original complaint of Bilkis including Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Naresh Moriya, who had allegedly raped her. The other accused are six police officials and two government doctors of Dahod District. The chargesheet said that the most vital "breakthrough" came when some pictures were discovered by the agency in Ahmedabad.

Till the finding of the photographs the Gujarat police had been insisting that only seven persons were killed, though Bilkis had said in her complaint that at least her 14 relatives were killed in the mob attack.

After investigations, the CBI found that the police officials and the doctors were involved in covering up and destroying evidence related to the case.

According to the chargesheet Bilkis and her 17 relatives were attacked by a mob on March 4, 2002. Bilkis' three-and-a half year old daughter was also with her at the time of attack. 

However, Gujarat police had registered a case naming 12 persons but they did not arrest them. 

The chargesheeted policemen include a DSP, two inspectors and a head constable, sub-inspector IA Syed and head constable Narpatsinh Patel. The arrest of latter two policemen led to arrest of other police officials.

In Best Bakery case, the Gujarat government said before the supreme court that ramifications of the transfer would be serious. The government’s contention was that "no material was placed before the court justifying the transfer outside the state" and the remarks "modern-day Neros who looked elsewhere when innocent children and helpless women were being burnt” should be expunged.

The indictment of people responsible for communal violence has little effect on the communally divided electorate of the state. There are hundred of Muslims still languishing in relief camps of Modasa, a town in Sabarkantha district. No political party has approached them because they know that they will vote for Congress. Modasa BJP unit in-charge was on record saying that BJP would not get a single Muslim vote in Modasa. Similarly, Hindus would vote for BJP. The communal divide is visible in Modasa as elsewhere in the state. 

— M Mazharul Haque

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