By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The acquittal of all living 67 accused in a Special Court in Ahmedabad has clearly showed that the riot victims of Naroda Gam massacre have been served injustice in place of justice. As the case stands now, prosecution has miserably failed in producing evidence against the accused persons, while judiciary failed in delivering justice to the victims, and both signify a miscarriage of the entire Criminal Justice System, since a victim has a right of have justice.
The questions remain – if these accused persons are not the culprits as they have been acquitted reportedly either due to lack of evidence or given benefit of doubt, who were the real culprits in the mob that attacked the Muslim Mohalla Kumbhar Vas in Naroda Gamin Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002 and put houses on fire in which 11 Muslims were burnt to death? Should this case be pursued to its logical conclusion by providing justice to the victims or should we let it go with acquittal of the accused persons if there is no evidence against them? Should we take a critical view of the poor quality of the investigation that has been a suspect on account of the questionable role of the ruling establishment and the police officials on the spot? … and so on.
It must also be noted that when the verdict was pronounced around 5:30 PM on April 20 by SIT Special Judge Shubhada Baxi, the court premises was reverberated by chants of “Jai Shree Ram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, the slogans that were being shouted particularly by people of BJP and RSS Parivar for a long time for provoking Hindu passions against other communities or people, and also during riots, as videos of 2002 post-Godhra riots available in public domains show.
One can also not forget that during the 2002 post-Godhra riot, Narendra Modi led BJP was ruling Gujarat, who is now Prime Minister of India. Gujarat is still ruled by BJP. Does the sloganeering in similar term during riots and just after pronouncement of the verdict have any connection with each other? It’s a matter of further investigation.
An FIR was registered in Naroda Police Station in Ahmedabad after the incident. It should also be noted that soon after the incident, the Justice Nanavati committee was constituted to enquire into the case, which had concluded in its report that the police did not help the Muslims in Naroda Gam area and that the leaders like Maya Kodnani (BJP’s ex-MLA and former Minister), Jaydeep Patel (former Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader), and ex-Bajrang Dal member Babu Bajrangi etc instigated the miscreants. It had also highlighted the fact that the police were not present in adequate numbers and also was not properly equipped to control the situation on ground. The Police, however, since been maintaining that it was busy controlling other, more violent riots in nearby Naroda Patiya.
Initially there were total of 86 accused in this case, out of which 18 died during trial, leaving behind only 68. One of the accused was discharged, and hence the remaining 67 accused faced charges and ultimately acquitted, 67 being present in the court during pronouncement of the judgement. The special court had concluded the proceedings on April 5.Both Kodnani and Bajrangi were also accused in Narod Patiya case and were convicted to undergo life imprisonment, however, Kodnani was acquitted by the Gujarat High Court, while upholding Bajrangi’s conviction.
The judgement in the Naroda Gam case came after 21 years despite an order for speedy day-to-day trials which were committed to designated courts, and were monitored by the Supreme Court of India. It also presents a case of reform in Criminal Justice System itself so that justice can be delivered in reasonable time frame.
Naroda Gam riot was on the nine major riots in Gujarat that witnessed in the aftermath of the burning of Sabarmati express train in Godhra on 27 February 2002 in which 59 Hindu Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt to death and 48 were injured reportedly by rioters from Muslim community.
It is not yet clear whether State government will appeal against acquittal of the accused persons in Naroda Gam massacre case or not. It all depends now on the ruling establishment led by BJP in the state. It would only be a guess work for people, since we have recently seen how the government secured the release of 11 convicts serving life sentences for rape and murder, who were part of a Hindu mob that attacked Bilkis Bano and her family during similar riots of that time.
The State government had submitted in the Supreme Court of India that a government panel had approved the application for remission of the 11 convicts who were convicted for the gangrape of a pregnant Muslim woman and murder of 14 members of her family including her three-year-old daughter. Gujarat government had also submitted that they had sought the federal government’s approval – which was granted by the home ministry. It should be noted that Federal Government is now being led by PM Narendra Modi, and Union Ministry for Home is led by Amit Shah.
PM Narendra Modi what Gujarat Chief Minister during the riot and he had been accused of not doing enough to prevent the rots. However, in 2013, a Supreme Court panel has said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him and hence he was given clean chit.
There is also a disturbing trend that the Hindu accused of communal riots were welcomed as heroes by the BJP-RSS people when they are released from jails. It happened when the 11 convicts in the Bilki Bano case came out from jail, and in several other cases including the present Naroda Gam case. Hindutva politics has become so sinister that even Amit Shah had been heard saying during the election campaign in Gujarat in November 2022 that BJP taught 2002 rioters a lesson and established ‘eternal peace’ in the state.
Over the years, in several riot cases courts have convicted many, but the chief concern remains the same due to large number of acquittals, ruling establishment’s favouring the accused persons in numerous ways including deliberate poor investigation, and failure of Criminal Justice System in securing justice for the victims.
A judge’s functions are too narrow that leaves many questions unanswered since their focus remains only on examination of the evidences produced before it. Technically, the judgements may be flawless, but still there are social concerns since the society is interested in justice in true sense of the term because it cannot afford to allow lawlessness. Victims must get justice, and guilty punished. Rioters and their supporters must not be welcomed to the further humiliation of the victims by the slogans like “Jai Sri Ram” or “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or else Hindus are reducing themselves to bigots. (IPA Service)