Godhra judgement: justice compromised

The Godhra carnage continues to be in the limelight even after the verdict was pronounced. Thirty one people have been convicted as guilty for criminal conspiracy and 63 others have been acquitted in the case, a special court will decide the quantum of punishment for the 31 accused.

Investigations into the incident have seen different political interpretations. Justice Nanawati commission had supported police theory of conspiracy while Banerjee commission appointed by the then Railway Minister had claimed that fire in S-6 was just an accident This judgement of Sessions court at Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Central Jail in the Godhra case is out now and it has made one thing very clear that the entire incident in which 59 passengers were burnt to death in the S-6 coach of ill-fated Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 was caused by a group of people, who set the coach on fire in a pre-planned manner and it was not an accident as suggested by the U C Banerjee commission report.

It is one more compromise “verdict” from the Indian Justice System. One cannot call it justice served rather it reflects the helplessness of the Justice system. First of all it is hard to establish that the fire broke out from outside, hence it was established that fire bomb was used. OK, even if fire bombs fell inside, naturally people will try to douse it off or throw it out.

And, one fire bomb cannot burn an entire compartment so if we consider 10 fire bombs falling inside a moving train with steel bars on windows, there may be 100 bombs thrown at the train from outside.

In that case some of these bombs can miss their target and hit the compartment in front or back of coach 6. But there is no evidence of this. Besides, who locked the compartment from out side?

A moving train cannot be locked from outside. The general knowledge available says that the compartment can be opened even if it is locked from outside provided there is no additional locking device – like chains metal bars etc. are used. But this was never mentioned. It seems that entire unfortunate tragedy was nothing but a sinister conspiracy for the sole reason of instigating and justifying the anticipated riots.

The government system was misused. The gameplan was that the party wanted to get power in Delhi by consolidating Hindu votes like the Hindutva wave after the Masjid demolition. But the educated majority community disliked this plan.

The acquittal of Godhra train-tragedy prime-accused Maulavi Hussain Umarji by a special fast-track court is another source of discomfiture for Gujarat Police. He is a leading member of the Ghanchi sect among Muslims and a philanthropist who had organised relief after the devastating Gujarat earthquake of January 26, 2001. Gujarat police is already facing flak for several alleged fake encounters that took place under Narendra Modi’s chief ministership.

The Maulavi’s son Saeed Umarji said: “From the very beginning, due to faulty investigation, my old father was confined to prison for eight long years. I think big injustice has been done to us. “Our faith in the judiciary got further strengthened he added.

Gujarat police had described him as the main accused who had ordered four of his lieutenants to mobilise a mob at the station to target the S-6 bogey carrying kar sevaks on February 27, 2002.He was also charged with hatching the conspiracy in a meeting allegedly convened by him.

Gujarat police arrested Umarji a year after the train-burning incident. His arrest was based on a statement made by an accused called Zabir Bin Yamin Behra, who had said Maulavi Umarji and Haji Bilal were two of the main conspirators.

The trial court, which conducted the trial, has accepted the confession made by Behra, who had stated Godhra was not the result of an accident or provocation but was a conspiracy.

Subsequently in 2008, when the Nanavati commission submitted its first part of the report pertaining to the train-burning incident, it held that the maulavi had played a crucial role in hatching the conspiracy.


Bandukwala, social activist and winner of Rajiv ratan award:
The judgement is balanced, and will inshallah lead to peace in Gujarat. It is essential that the other case judgments also come out soon, and the VHP / BJP culprits are punished.

We are happy that 63 people, including Maulana Umerjee are released. But their lives and those of their families have been ruined. All these people were arrested from the streets of Godhra by the police, just after the February 27 incident. The real culprit was Dy SP Noel Parmar, who carried out these arrests in a totally biased manner, without any evidence. These people were tortured and forced to confess against each other. This officer was a favourite of the Modi Government. He was given repeated extensions, after his retirement, and more unusual promotions during the extention period. It was his report that has sealed the fate of the 31 accused. We demand that the Government compensate these 63 released people, for their sufferings in the last nine years. We also demnd that Noel Parmar be tried for intentional and malicious design to judicially destroy these lives.

Teesta Setalvad, CJP, Mumbai:
Detailed reaction would have to await reading the full judgement. How the conspiracy has been upheld will be crucial to understand given the gaps in the petrol collection etc theory as also the absence of paramilitary forces at Godhra given the route the kar sevaks were taking and the communal history of the time.

Since Maulvi Umarji one of the key accused and the prime conspirator has been acquitted by the court, it is difficult to comment comprehensively without going through the entire judgement. However it also appears that the evidence of nine members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–who out of political rivalry had deposed against Kalota and others –has been rejected by the Judge.

There was certainly little ground for a conspiracy in the evidence though the state political leadership had decreed so on the 27th itself in their official press note. However what is significant is that with two thirds of the accused acquitted, the fact that close to 85 undertrials were in jail without bail for nine years remains an issue that needs to be answered. Who will compensate for the lost years of their lives?

Of these there is a govt servant, a near ninety per cent blind young boy, Iqbal Mamdu and Maulvi Umerji who ran the Godhra relief camp in which Bilkees Bano and other victim survivors from Panchmahal, Dahod and nearby districts were given shelter for several months.

A lot of things have been said about the Nanawati commission report, but the UC Banerjee report made some very interesting observations based on affidavits filed by three police officers, which went against the conspiracy theory. The Banerjee committee had ruled that the entire incident in Godhra was an accident and supported its findings based on railway records and logs maintained by officials at the Godhra railway station.

It brought to the fore that when even the Gujarat government’s own CID was not aware that Kar Sewaks were returning by Sabramati Express, how would normal residents of Godhra know. It raised questions why the S-6 coach where the fire started was disposed off very fast instead of it being preserved as case property and why the then Railway minister Nitish Kumar did not order the mandatory inquiry by the commissioner of safety. Banerjee also pointed out that no Railway compartment can be locked from outside by any common citizen as there is no latch to do so. It is only a key, which is with the railway guard, and authorities, which can lock doors from outside. Finally, the fire burns sustained by victims were in the lower portion of the body indicating that the fire had started from within and was not because of any fire bombs thrown from outside.

The legal battle will go on and many questions will be raised again and again with the hope that answers come from the judiciary. Everyone will want justice to prevail in the end whether in Godhra or in the rest of Gujarat.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2011 on page no. 10

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