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

Gujarat two years after

Justice eludes victims even two years after Gujarat riots

By Andalib Akhter

New Delhi: Two years back India witnessed one of the most dreadful communal riots in its post independence history. More than 2000 people were killed. Hundreds injured, thousands rendered homeless. The state of Gujarat saw the naked dance of barbarism. Children and women were brutally attacked and raped in front of the guardians of law. Thank god several human rights organisations and NGOs came forward to rescue the victims. The fascist forces and the government of the day also targeted them (NGOs). However their relentless effort are now paying off. They were able to bring some heinous crimes to light and the people can see the blood stained hands of the local government and the tacit support from the centre. Citizens For Justice And Peace, headed by devoted human right activist, Teesta Setalvad, is one of the NGOs actively involved in providing justice to the victims of the Gujarat catastrophe. Teesta Setalvad has prepared the following report about what has been done over the last two years to provide relief and justice to the victims of the Gujarat carnage.

Gujarat riot victims try to rebuild their shattered lives

Condition of Eye Witnesses: The key eyewitnesses in eight massacres that took place in Gujarat are not able to go back to their place of residence due to the fact that the accused roam scot-free and are hand in glove with the state government. They continue to receive threats [they have stated this on oath in affidavits before the Supreme Court] and the protection ordered by the government is a farce. [The application and the amicus curae to have a special hearing on CRPF protection to witnesses of all carnages set to come up soon in the Supreme Court. Social Tensions and Intimidation: The situation in Gujarat remains tense with an administration that is unwilling to ensure justice or reconciliation. Human rights defenders and lawyers fighting cases are facing threats and intimidation. Tensions around festivals remain.

Relief and Rehabilitation: The state has refused to respond as it is bound under the Indian Constitution to provide relief and rehabilitation through the relief camps set up by community leaders. It took a Public Interest Litigation that dragged the Narendra Modi government to the Gujarat High Court on this issue, that the Gujarat government was compelled, as a result of court orders, to spend at least Rs 10 crore on providing for food and other supplies to relief camps, something that the Modi government was adamant it would not do. There is another PIL pending that asks the state to account for the Rs. 150 crore announced by the centre to victims of the Gujarat carnage. The Gujarat minister's statement that Rs 33 crores have been used and 'there is no need for more" has been challenged in the Gujarat High Court. 

Compensation claim: In response to another PIL in the Gujarat High Court, the court has asked the Gujarat government to give a full and proper account of the Rs 150 crore that was promised from the PM's fund for the relief of Gujarat's victims of violence. 

Political Appointments: On February 18, 2004, the former Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, P C Pandey, indicted for gross dereliction of duty was appointed Additional Director Central Bureau of Investigation - a decision taken by the union home ministry [under L K Advani] when legal prayers are pending in the Supreme Court for getting key investigations undertaken by the CBI!! This amounts to serious prejudicing of the hearings before the Supreme Court. Besides, just like in 2002 when conscientious police officers were transferred to obscure postings- 28 police officials doing a professional job were transferred. 

Bilkees Mass Rape Case: This case had been first highlighted through the AIDWA report. The NHRC recommended to the Supreme Court that special attention be paid to this case. Harish Salve was appointed amicus curae in October 2003. Thereafter extremely shocking aspects have been revealed. The CBI has begun its probe and submitted its preliminary report which reveals that bodies of murdered victims [some of who were raped] were buried at a spot showing a shocking connivance between the murderers/rapists and the local police. The CBI has been given six months to complete its investigation.

Concerned Citizens Tribunal: CJP took the initiative in setting up a citizens' tribunal headed by Justice V R Krishna Iyer, (retired Supreme Court judge) and two other retired judges - one each of the Supreme Court and High Court - to conduct an independent probe into the violence in Godhra and the rest of Gujarat. Their three-volume report titled 'Crime Against Humanity' continues to be the most potent document till date on the Gujarat violence nationally and internationally. On its release from Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, the findings and recommendations of the Tribunal received extensive print and electronic media coverage. Legal Action: Best Bakery Case: If the question of justice and peace in the context of the horrors of Gujarat has been brought centre-stage in the past months, though several legal initiatives were taken earlier, it has been due to the intervention of the Supreme Court of India in the Best Bakery case. Zahira Shaikh told a well-attended press conference why they were forced to lie before the court earlier and why they wanted a retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat. The NHRC decided, in a rare step, to file an appeal in the Supreme Court endorsing Zahira's plea for a retrial outside Gujarat. Besides the NHRC, Citizens For Peace and Justice and Zahira also filed a separate appeal in the Supreme Court, which has now been clubbed together with the NHRC petition. Citizens For Peace and Justice's two earlier petitions pending in the Supreme Court, on hate speech and need for transfer of investigation of the massacres to an independent agency are also to be heard now.

Godhra Families Come to CJP: On Dussera Day (October 5, 2003), 14 members from four Hindu families, each of whom had lost a woman from their family in the fire that consumed coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra last year, addressed a press conference in Mumbai after they sought CJP's help in their struggle for justice for they felt totally cheated and betrayed by the very people in Gujarat who claim to be their protectors and who have raised huge amounts of money in their name. These Hindu families have also filed an impleadment application before the Supreme Court pleading that the Godhra case too must be heard outside Gujarat. 

Gulberg Society, Chamanpura: This was one of the worst carnages where former member of parliament, Ahsan Jaffri was brutally killed. CJP has been handling the criminal trial from the very start and it is because of CJP's support that witnesses have not been cowed down, intimidated and broken. The public prosecutor appointed for this trial by the Gujarat government was a man charge-sheeted of burning alive nine Muslims! There is a plea to transfer this case outside Gujarat, too. 

Transfer Petition(s) in Supreme Court: Following Zahira Shaikh's appearance before the NHRC, the NHRC also filed a transfer petition in the SC praying for a transfer of 14 major carnage trials out of Gujarat. This was in keeping with the NHRC's findings in its pathbreaking report in 2002. The Citizens For Peace and Justice has impleaded itself in this transfer petition and filed, directly in the Supreme Court, affidavits of major complainants, eyewitnesses that reveal starkly the state of subverted investigation and trials in Gujarat. The Citizens For Peace and Justice has also filed along with Hindu victims of the S-6 coach burning and the relatives of the illegally accused, a transfer petition in the Godhra matter.

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