Godhra, a city of the
Indian State of Gujarat, was the lead story in all Indian newspapers
on February 27th-28th, 2002. A shattering piece of news: 58 Hindu pilgrims
had been burned alive in a train. 57
die in ghastly attack on train
ran the Times of Indias headline; Mob
targets Ramsevaks [Devotees of Rama] returning from Ayodhya;
58 killed in
attack on train with Karsevaks [volunteers]
(The Indian Express); 1500-strong
mob butcher 57 Ramsevaks on Sabarmati Express
(The Asian Age). But the BBCs announcement had a very different
tone: 58 Hindu
burned to death
or Agence France Press on March 2nd: A
train full of Hindu extremists
A deluge of anguished news followed
about a Muslim
killings of Muslims in reprisal riots
(NYT, March 5th), The
authorities share the prejudices of the Hindu gangs who have
been busy pulping their Muslim neighbours
(The Observer, March 4th). We were told that Narendra Modi, Chief
Minister of Gujarat, intended to eradicate Muslims from the State
more than 9% of Gujarats population, in other words five million
people. We read that the police was conniving in the mass slaughter
and did nothing to prevent it. Narendra Modi was compared to Hitler,
or Nero. We shuddered reading the reports describing rapes and various
horrors, supposedly inflicted on Muslims by Hindus.
Today, six years later, with the noises
and cries of the wounds having fallen silent, what emerges from those
events? What are the facts?
At 7:43 A.M. on February 27th, 2002, the
Sabarmati Express rolled into the Godhra station, fortunately
with a four-hour delay, in broad daylight. This train transported more
than 2,000 people, mainly karsewaks on their way back to Ahmedabad
after participating in the Poorna Ahuti Yagya at Ayodhya, a ritual
at the traditional birthplace of Rama.
As it pulled out of the station, the train
was pelted with stones and bricks, and passengers from several bogeys
were forced to bring down their windows to protect themselves. Someone
pulled the emergency chain: the train came to a halt about 100 metres
away from the platform, surrounded by a large crowd of Muslims. The
railway police managed to disperse the crowd, and the train resumed
Within minutes, the emergency chain was
simultaneously pulled again, from several coaches. It halted at about
700 metres from the station. A crowd of over 1,000 surrounded the train,
pelting it with bricks, stones, then burning missiles and acid bulbs,
especially on the S-5, S-6 and S-7 coaches.
The vacuum pipe between coaches S-6 and
S-7 was cut, thereby preventing any further movement of the train. The
doors were locked from outside. A fire started in coach S-7, which the
passengers were able to extinguish. But the attack intensified and coach
S-6 caught fire and minutes later, was in flames. Passengers who managed
to get out of the burning compartment were attacked with sharp weapons,
and stoned. They received serious injuries, some were killed. Others
got out through the windows and took shelter below the coach. Fifty eight pilgrims were
burned alive, including twenty-seven women and ten children. The whole
attack lasted 20-25 minutes. What transpired then, in the Indian
press? Lets imagine a coach of French pilgrims coming back from
Lourdes, burned alive.
Strangely, instead of clearly, straightforwardly
condemning the act, the Indian English-language press tried to justify
provoked by chanting pro-Hindu slogans
(they were not slogans but bhajans, or devotional songs, ending
(Victory to Sri Rama). Its
because they were returning from Ayodhya, where they asked for the reconstruction
of a temple at the traditional birth place of Rama; this offends the
feelings of the Muslims.
In sum, the victims, roasted alive, were guilty.
Numb with shock, the people of Gujarat
did not react straightaway. They remained calm at first. Till that afternoon,
when the charred bodies started arriving at their respective families
with no comforting voice sounded, either from the government,
or from the media, no condemnation for this barbaric act, but an indifferent,
deafening silence then these people known for their non-violent
nature and exceptional patience, burst into a frenzy.
There was a revolt in the whole of Gujarat.
For three days, tens of thousands of enraged Hindus set fire to Muslim
shops, houses, vehicles: They came out from all sides, all parties,
all classes, uncontrollable one cannot control a revolution (except
in China maybe). The fatalities: 720 Muslims, 250 Hindus, according
to official figures.
We read all over about a genocide
Do we remember a single report on the Hindus who heroically helped save
Muslims in their neighbourhood? Was even one family of Hindu
victims interviewed following the criminal burning of the Sabarmati
Express? One fourth of the dead in the ensuing riots were Hindus.
How to classify those 250 victims? Who evoked the dead on the Hindu
side? According to reports, Congress Party councillor Taufeeq Khan Pathan
and his son Zulfi, notorious gangsters, were allegedly seen leading
Muslim rioters. Another such character, Congress member
of the Godhra Nagarpalika [municipality], Haji Balal, was said to have
had the fire-fighting vehicle sabotaged beforehand.
he stopped the vehicle on its
way to the Godhra Station and did not allow it to proceed any further.
A man stood in front of the vehicle, the mob started pelting stones,
headlights and the windowpanes
of the vehicle got damaged Fearing for his own and his crew's
life, the driver drove the vehicle through the mob, as it was not
possible to move backwards. The mob gave in but 15-20
precious minutes had been lost.
Lost for a coach
full of innocent people in flames.
Which newspaper article stated that the
most violent events took place following provocations by leaders of
this sort? The Union Home Ministry's Annual Report of 2002-03 stated
that 40,000 Hindus were in riot relief camps. What made those 40,000
Hindus rush to relief camps? To seek protection from whom? Why was it
necessary if they were the main aggressors? More than
the barbaric event itself, it is the insensitivity of the Indian elite
and of the media that infuriated the Gujaratis.
Those accused of terrorism often receive
political support, are benevolently portrayed by the media, and a host
of human rights
organisations are always on hand to fight for them. But those victims
whose life is cut down for no reason, are they not human
enough to get some rights too? The great majority of those who took
to revolt in Gujarat were neither rich nor particularly intellectual
neither right nor left: they were middle- and lower-class Gujaratis,
simple people, workers, also tribals. But some from the upper middle
class, among them a lot of women, took part in the upheaval.
The media sources
Apart from local journalists usually more
objective in their reports, no English media reporter, thought it worthwhile
to look deeper into the events at the Godhra railway station. Nobody
came to question possible survivors of the tragedy. Is a coach of Hindu
pilgrims even worth the trip? They had to wait for the
to react; they had to receive directives from the politically correct,
before taking their pens. Worse, they reported deliberate rumours and
made up versions as actual news.
We were told, for instance, that when
some pilgrims got off the ill-fated coaches to have tea, some
altercation took place
between them, and a Muslim tea vendor: They
argued with the old man on purpose,
wrote some newspapers; they
refused to pay for their tea
(though Gujarati honesty is well known); they
pulled his beard and beat him up ... They kept shouting Mandir
ka nirmaan karo, Babar ki aulad ko bahar karo
(start building the temple and throw out the sons of Babar). Hearing
the chaos, the tea vendors 16-year-old daughter came forward and
tried to save her father from the karsevaks. She kept pleading
and begging them to leave him alone. The karsevaks, according
to this version, then seized the girl, took her inside their compartment
and closed the door. The old man kept banging on the door and pleaded
for his daughter. Then two stall vendors jumped into the last bogey,
pulled the chain, and put the bogey on fire.
But would they have been stupid
enough to set fire to the coach where their colleagues young daughter
was being held? And why were 2,000 Muslims assembled there at 7 A.M.
with jerry-cans of petrol bought the previous evening? Rajeev Srinivasan,
an American journalist of Indian origin, was e-mailed this anonymous
report a dozen times, supposedly written by Anil Soni, Press Trust
of India reporter. He contacted Anil Soni to check on the veracity
of this account. Soni answered:
Some enemy of mine has
done this to make life difficult for me, do you understand, sir? I
did not write this at all. I am a PTI correspondent. Yes, that is
my phone number, but it is not my writing.
Anil Soni apparently
had heard about it from hundreds of people, and was upset to see a false
report circulated in his name.
Inquiries with the Railway Staff and passengers
travelling in the Sabarmati Express showed that: no quarrel whatsoever
took place on the platform between a tea vendor and pilgrims, and no
girl was manhandled nor kidnapped. As the Nanavati Report
established later, this fictitious report was in fact circulated by
the Jamiat-Ulma-E-Hind, the very hand responsible for the carnage.
It nevertheless went around the world, exhibited as the
Arent we compelled to conclude that the assailants, in India,
are those who dictate whats politically
instruct the media?
Arson and Canards
On the afternoon of February 28th, Gujarati
Hindus revolt broke out. A few journalists then booked their tickets
for Gujarat. As far as we can see, they had a framework in place: the
outbreak would be dealt with independently of the Godhra carnage, as
a different, unrelated subject; it was a planned violence perpetrated
Hindus against Gujarats Muslims, fully backed by the State of
Gujarat. From this day on, the burning of coach S-6 was to be left behind,
On February 28th evening, Chief Minister
Narendra Modi announced his decision to deploy the Army, and the next
day, March 1st, by 11 A.M. the actual deployment of troops at sensitive
points had begun. Violence abated in most major cities, after their
arrival with orders to shoot on sight. But security forces were largely
outnumbered by the angry flood of people, spreading for the first time
like rivers in spate, to rural areas and villages. Apprehending the
seriousness of the situation, Narendra Modi had made a request for security
personnel from neighbouring States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan
and Punjab. This request was turned down by each State. Why did no one
report this fateful refusal?
That same day (1st March), at the peak
of the turmoil, the National Human Rights Commission faxed a notice
to the Gujarat Government, calling for a report within three days on
the measures being taken
to prevent any further escalation of the
situation in the State of Gujarat which is resulting in continued violation
of human rights of the people.
But it was silent on what had led to such a situation in the first place.
One major event which received a great
deal of attention from the media was the conflagration at the Gulbarg
Society in Ahmedabad, home of a former Member of Parliament, Ehsan
Jaffri. This man, rather refined and usually respected, did not feel
threatened. But on February 28th morning, a crowd surrounded his house,
in which a number of Muslims had taken refuge. Jaffri made a number
of panic-stricken phone calls for help to authorities and to his colleagues,
journalists and friends. The crowd was growing (from 200 to 20,000,
figures vary in the reports). The Indian Express (March 1st,
2002), as well as police records, reported that eventually,
in panic, he fired at the 5,000-strong mob 2 were killed and
13 injured ... That incensed the mob
which at 1:30 P.M. set the bungalow ablaze by exploding a gas cylinder.
Final toll: 42 (March 11th edition).
Human Rights Watch, an NGO based in New
York, published a dossier (on April 30th, 2002) about the Gujarat events
which caused a sensation and fed a large number of articles in the international
In this report, Smita Narula had an unnamed
at hand, to relate the attack on Jaffris house. First a
200 to 500-strong mob threw stones; refugees in the house (also 200-250
people sic!) also threw stones in self-defence.
Then the crowd set the place on fire at about 1:30 P.M. Our witness
then jumped from the third floor where he was hiding and from
where he had been observing in minute detail all that was going on in
the ground floor, even the theft of jewels (it would seem the floors
between the third and the ground floor were transparent). At that point
we jump into the sensational. Narulas witness sees that four
or five girls were raped, cut, and burned ; two married women
were also raped and cut. Some on the hand, some on the neck
to seventy people were killed.
Those rapes and hackings are said to have started at 3:30 P.M. ... when
the house was already on fire. Was the mob waiting for everything to
be reduced to cinders to commit its crimes?
Among the most morbid canards, the novelist
Arundhati Roys vitriolic article (Outlook magazine, May
6th, 2002). She describes the event which precedes Ehsan Jaffris
A mob surrounded the house
of former Congress MP Iqbal Ehsan Jaffri. His phone calls to the Director-General
of Police, the Police Commissioner, the Chief Secretary, the Additional
Chief Secretary (Home) were ignored. The mobile police vans around
his house did not intervene. The mob broke into the house. They stripped
his daughters and burned them alive. Then they beheaded Ehsan Jaffri
and dismembered him
Wait a minute. Jaffri
was burned alive in the house, true is it not awful enough? Along
with some other 41 people. Not enough? But his daughters were neither
nor burnt alive.
T. A. Jafri, his son, in a front-page interview titled Nobody
knew my fathers house was the target
(Asian Age, May 2nd, Delhi ed.), felt obliged to rectify:
Among my brothers and sisters,
I am the only one living in India. And I am the eldest in the family.
My sister and brother live in the US. I am 40 years old and I have
been born and brought up in Ahmedabad.
There we are, reassured
as regards Ehsan Jaffris children. He had only one daughter, who
was living abroad. No one was raped in the course of this tragedy, and
no evidence was given to the police to that effect.
The Gujarat Government sued Outlook
magazine. In its May 27th issue, Outlook published an apology
to save its face. But in the course of its apology, the magazines
editors quoted a clarification
from Roy, who withdrew her lie by planting an even bigger one: the MPs
not among the 10 women who were raped and killed in Chamanpura that
day! From Smita
Narula to Arundhati Roy, four
or five girls
had swollen to ten
anonymous and elusive.
Roy begins theatrically:
Last night a friend from Baroda
called. Weeping. It took her fifteen minutes to tell me what the matter
was. It wasnt very complicated. Only that Sayeeda, a friend
of hers, had been caught by a mob. Only that her stomach had been
ripped open and stuffed with burning rags. Only that after she died,
someone carved OM on her forehead.
Balbir Punj, Rajya
Sabha MP and journalist, shocked by this despicable
allegedly occurred in Baroda, decided to investigate it. He got in touch
with the Gujarat government.
The police investigations revealed
that no such case, involving someone called Sayeeda, had been reported
either in urban or rural Baroda. Subsequently, the police sought Roys
help to identify the victim and seek access to witnesses who could
lead them to those guilty of this crime. But the police
got no cooperation. Instead, Roy, through her lawyer, replied that
the police had no power to issue summons.
This redefines the
Another story about a pregnant
whose stomach was allegedly ripped
open, her foetus
taken out and both being burnt, horrified people all over the
world. The first mention of it seems to be in a BBC report around March
6th, which, though uncorroborated,
spread like wildfire, with fresh details (divergent and varied, but
who cares?), so much so that you end up feeling there is no smoke without
fire. The rumour was never confirmed which twisted tongue first
Press articles kept quoting one another,
out of floating rumours. None of the authors even deigned to visit the
scene of the alleged events; none except the official inquiry commissions,
had the honesty to question fairly, in parallel, the involved Hindu
families regarding the tragedy unfolding in the two Gujarati communities.
Onlookers get caught
On March 1st, 2002, in a village on the
outskirt of Vadodara (Baroda), the Best
Bakery was set
on fire: fourteen persons were burnt alive (nine Muslims and three Hindus).
This particular incident made much ink flow, since the prime witness,
young Zaheera Habibullah Sheikh, aged 19, turned against the prosecution
in favour of the accused in the trial court.
Though Zaheera lost several family members
in the tragedy, on May 17th, 2003, in the Vadodara High Court, she testified
that the accused persons in the dock were innocent and had nothing to
do with the arson. She, as well as the other witnesses, did not recognize
their own alleged statements before the police.
Justice Mahida of the High Court
1) There has been an inexcusable
delay in the First Information Report (FIR). The so-called FIR of
Zahiribibi (Zaheera) was sent to the Magistrate after four to five
days. So there is every reason to believe that factually this FIR
was cropped up afterwards in the manner suitable to the police.
2) The arrested persons had nothing
to do with the incident.
all knew these accused persons and because of them, our lives are
Lal Mohammed Shaikh, a witness before the court. There
were cordial relations between my family members, the persons residing
in the compound of Best Bakery and all the accused persons before
the court The 65 persons who are saved in this incident are
all before the Court and all these were saved by and due to the accused
and their family members These persons had called us, in darkness
we silently came out of our house, and they saved our lives.
3) The police is trying to put
as accused passers-by at the place of incident, innocent persons gathering
there or persons residing in the neighbourhood (in confidence that
the police wouldnt do anything to them).
4) No legal or acceptable evidence
at all is produced by the prosecution against the accused involving
them in this incident. In this case, it has come out during
the trial that false evidences were cropped
up against the present accused to involve them in this case. The case
is not proved and hence the accused are acquitted .
On June 27th, 2003,
the twenty-one defendants were freed, and Zaheera Sheikh felt the court
has given her all
the justice she wanted.
In the interests of a community
But all were not satisfied. A former Chief
Justice of India, A.S. Anand, Chairman of the National Human Rights
Commission decided that the Vadodara judgement was a miscarriage
of justice and
the twenty-one not-guilty
people were actually guilty and therefore should be punished. Now this
honourable person should have been aware that seated in Delhi at the
helm of this human
he would have been the first target of a number of dubious NGOs with
vested political interests. Strangely, Justice Anand
did not even consider it important to send his own team of independent
inquiry before questioning the judgment of another court of law. Consequently, just after the fast-track
court acquittals, three members of Zaheeras community barged
into her home around midnight, and told her she would have to
change her statement in the interests of the community. This meant that
Zaheera had to declare that she had lied to the court (which is a criminal
Did she have a choice? Along with her mother
and brother, she was taken to Mumbai
without their consent,
and brought to Teesta Setalvad,
an activist of the much-vaunted
The activist took them under her wing for several months, accommodated
them in a rented apartment while providing assistance for a living.
In the meantime she prepared affidavits (in English which Zaheera does
not read) for the girl to sign before the National Human Rights Commission
(NHRC), in which she confessed
to having lied to the Vadodara trial court, trembling
with fear and threatened
by BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastav (who had nothing to do with her area and
whom she did not even know). And Zaheera now designated as guilty, the
twenty-one people she had considered innocent. All media were ready
with their cameras, mikes and pens to splash the news.
The Gujarat High Court dismissed the appeal,
rightly suspecting that the witness had been pressured to turn hostile,
and upheld the acquittals.
But the Supreme Court accepted the retraction
and, as demanded by NHRC and Setalvad, ordered the retrial of the case
outside Gujarat. The acquittal of the twenty-one people was quashed. In
2004, Zaheera managed
to flee from her confinement by the activist, and in November,
seized by remorse for having allowed innocent people to be accused,
stated that whatever she had told the Supreme Court, was done under
duress from Teesta Setalvad and her associate Rais Khan; and whatever
she told the NHRC was a lie. Ramzan is on and I want to state
the truth, she said. What
I had said in Vadodara Court during the trial was my true statement.
The judgement was correct and had given me all the
justice I wanted.
She sought police protection from Teesta Setalvad.
The Supreme Court judge called the girl
accepted a high-powered
which indicted Zaheera Sheikh as a self-condemned
liar, and awarded
the girl with a simple one-year imprisonment for contempt of court,
as well as a fine of Rs. 50,000. Activist Teesta Setalvad was cleared. Now, who took the court
for a ride? Especially in light of the new revelation that a
host of Gujarat riot case victims were misled into signing affidavits
giving false information,
for which as many as ten of them had received 100,000 rupees from Teesta
Setalvad NGO. As it stands today, nine persons
among the twenty-one passer-bys picked up, have been condemned to life
imprisonment and are languishing in jail.
In December 2004, a fatwa was issued against
Zaheera by the Muslim Tayohar Committee, excommunicating her with the
approval of All India Muslim Personal Law Board,
for having constantly lied.
In other words, for having stood by the twenty-one wrongly accused Hindus
Let us pursue our investigation.
Human Rights Watch Smita Narulas
report (April 30th, 2002) was titled
We have no order to save you
State participation and complicity in anti-Muslim violence.
From US shores, its words were lapped up by the Indian elite and politicians:
What happened in Gujarat
was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack
against Muslims planned in advance and organized
with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.
But where are the facts
to corroborate such an allegation, which of course was instantly peddled
the world over? Can a carefully
happen overnight? And how can someone sitting in the U.S., gauge the
of such an outbreak?
Authentic inquiry By contrast, a genuine,
on-the-spot investigation was conducted under the aegis of the New Delhi-based
Council for International Affairs and Human Rights.
Its findings were made public as early as April 26th, 2002, through
a press conference held in Delhi. Running counter to the politically
correct line of an orchestrated
were largely ignored by the media.
On March 3rd, 2002 the five-member fact-finding
team under Justice Tewatias direction went to Godhra and spent
six days visiting three affected areas in Ahmedabad and some of the
relief camps. At all places, team members interacted with the two communities
freely, without intervention of any officials. Five delegations from
both communities presented their facts and views. The team then went
to the Godhra railway station and interviewed officials, survivors and
witnesses of the burning of the S-6 coach, as well as the fire brigade
staff. They met the Godhra District Collector, along with other officials.
On April 4th, the team was in Vadodara
(Baroda) visiting five relief camps of both communities, and seven areas
which were the scenes of violence in the preceding month, as well as
a number of sensitive areas. To have exposure to the ground realities
they visited some areas still under curfew and also met the Commissioner
of Police and District Collector along with other officials. Thirteen
delegations consisting of 121 citizens met the team and presented their
testimonies; they included not only members of both communities, but
ranged from the Association of Hoteliers to a group of Gujarati tribals
Let us quote some findings of Justice
Tewatias Inquiry Commission, which its report described as indisputable:
attack on Sabarmati Express on 27.02.02 was pre-planned and pre-meditated.
It was the result of a criminal conspiracy hatched by a hostile foreign
power with the help of local jehadis carried out with the evil
objective of pushing the country into a communal cauldron.
plan was to burn the entire train with more than two thousand passengers
in the wee hours of February 27th, 2002.
were no quarrels or fights between the vendors and the Hindu pilgrims
on the platform of Godhra Railway Station.
acid bulbs and highly inflammable liquid(s) were used to set the coaches
on fire that must have been stored [the day before] already for the
fire fighting system available in Godhra was weakened and its arrival
at the place of incident wilfully delayed by the mob with the open participation
of a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal.
passengers of coach S-6 were burnt to death by a Muslim mob and one
of the conspirators was a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal.
used the public address system exhorting the mob to
kill kafirs and enemies of Bin Laden.
About the police:
was on many occasions overwhelmed by the rioting mobs that were massive
and carried more lethal weapons than the police did.
did not have the training and know-how to manage situations of communal
strife witnessed in the state in recent weeks.
many places, [they] made a commendable work in protecting life
and property. Barring a few exceptions, it was not found to be communally
shows that the Army was requisitioned and deployed in time.
The involvement of the tribal
communities or Vanavasis, in the post-Godhra riots added a new
dimension to the communal violence, as Justice Tewatias report
In rural areas
the Vanvasis attacked the Muslim moneylenders, shopkeepers and the
forest contractors. They used their traditional bows and arrows as
also their implements used to cut trees and grass while attacking
Muslims. They moved in groups and used coded signals for communication.
Apparently, the accumulated anger of years of exploitation
had become explosive.
About the media:
language media was factual and objective. Yet its propensity to highlight
the gory incidents in great detail heightened communal tension.
English language newspapers
appeared to have assumed the role of crusaders against the State [Gujarat]
Government from day one. It coloured the entire operation of news
gathering, feature writing and editorials. They distorted and added
fiction to prove their respective points of view. The code of ethics
prescribed by the Press Council of India was violated with
impunity. It so enraged the citizens that several concerned citizens
in the disturbed areas suggested that peace could return to the state
only if some of the TV channels were closed for some weeks.
A few healing voices
It would be unfair
not to mention a few voices that rose from among the journalists themselves,
against this enormity. The most eloquent one was Vir Sanghvis,
usually part of the secular
establishment, ever ready to portray Muslims as victims, Hindus as aggressors.
Vir Sanghvis crisis of conscience suddenly gave him intellectual
clarity. Some extracts from his
in The Hindustan Times of Feb. 28th, 2002:
There is something profoundly
worrying in the response of what might be called the secular establishment
to the massacre in Godhra.
There is no suggestion that the
karsewaks started the violence there has been no real
provocation at all And yet, the sub-text to all secular commentary
is the same: the karsewaks had it coming to them.
Basically, they condemn the crime;
but blame the victims
Try and take the incident out
of the secular construct that we, in India, have perfected and see
how bizarre such an attitude sounds in other contexts. Did we say
that New York had it coming when the Twin Towers were attacked last
year? Then too, there was enormous resentment among fundamentalist
Muslims about America's policies, but we didn't even consider whether
this resentment was justified or not.
Instead we took the line that
all sensible people must take: any massacre is bad and deserves to
When Graham Staines and his children
were burnt alive, did we say that Christian missionaries had made
themselves unpopular by engaging in conversion and so, they had it
coming? No, of course, we didn't.
Why then are these poor karsewaks
an exception? Why have we de-humanised them to the extent that we
don't even see the incident as the human tragedy that it undoubtedly
I know the arguments well because
like most journalists I have used them myself. And I
still argue that they are often valid and necessary.
But there comes a time when this
kind of rigidly 'secularist'
construct not only goes too far; it also becomes counter-productive.
When everybody can see that a trainload of Hindus
was massacred by a Muslim mob, you gain nothing by blaming the murders
on the VHP or
arguing that the dead men and women had it coming to them.
Not only does this insult the
dead (What about the children? Did they also have it coming?), but
it also insults the intelligence of the reader.
There is one
question we need to ask ourselves: have we become such prisoners of
our own rhetoric that even a horrific massacre becomes nothing more
than occasion for Sangh Parivar-bashing?
S. Gurumurthy in The
New Indian Express (March 2nd), Jaya Jaitley, in The Indian Express
(March 7th), Rajeev Srinivasan in Rediff on Net (March 25th),
Arvind Lavakare in Rediff on Net (April 23rd), T. Tomas in Business
Standard (April 26th), François Gautier in The Pioneer
(April 30th), M.V. Kamath in The Times of India (May 8th), Balbir
Punj in Outlook (May 27th), each one expounded the absurdity of a situation
where the majority of Indians the Hindu community are
looked down upon as second class citizens. A negligible lot taken for
granted because it is harmless, non-aggressive, and unable to speak
and act as one coherent, organized group.
A farcical interlude Two and a half years
after the events, on Sept. 3rd, 2004, the cabinet of the Central Government
(ruled by the UPA coalition)
approved the setting up of a committee constituted by the Railways Minister
Lallu Prasad Yadav, and headed by Justice U. C. Banerjee, former judge
of the Supreme Court, to probe the causes of the conflagration in the
blaze is an accident,
Justice Banerjee coolly concluded in January 2005. There was no
possibility of inflammable liquid being used,
said he, and the fire originated in
the coach itself, without external input.
The Cabinet ministers were fully satisfied.
Now among the few survivors, Neelkanth
Bhatia, was not one. He gathered enough strength to challenge the formation
of this committee, and in October 2006, the Gujarat High Court quashed
the conclusions of the Banerjee Committee. It declared its formation
as a colourful
unconstitutional, null and void,
and its argument of accidental fire opposed
to the prima facie accepted facts on record.
Moreover, one high-level commission conducted by Justice Nanavati-Shah
had been appointed by the Gujarat Government to probe the incident,
two months earlier. The Court also did not miss the point that the interim
report was released just two days before the elections in Bihar
the State of the Railways minister, well-known for his political ambitions
and notorious for his histrionics.
Politicians know no common sense or shame.
But what about the judiciary?
The Nanavati Report The first part of Justice
Nanavati-Shah Inquiry Commission report was released in September 2008,
after four years of thorough investigations.
It lifted the cloak of blame that had been wrapped around the Gujarati
people all those years. It also cleared the most blackened Chief Minister
of Gujarat, Narendra Modi.
There is absolutely no evidence
to show that either the Chief Minister and/or any other Minister(s)
in his Council of Ministers or Police officers had played any role
in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in
the matter of providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the
victims of communal riots or in the matter of not complying with the
recommendations and directions given by National Human Rights Commission.
There is no evidence regarding involvement of any definite religious
or political organization in the conspiracy. Some individuals who
had participated in the conspiracy appear to be involved in the heinous
act of setting coach S/6 on fire.
The policemen who were assigned
the duty of travelling in the Sabarmati Express train from Dahod to
Ahmedabad had not done so and for this negligent act of theirs an
inquiry was held by the Government and they have been dismissed from
On the basis of the facts and
circumstances proved by the evidence the Commission comes to the conclusion
that burning of coach S/6 was a pre-planned act. In other words there
was a conspiracy to burn coach S/6 of the Sabarmati Express train
coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the Karsevaks travelling
in that coach. All the acts like procuring petrol, circulating false
rumour, stopping the train and entering in coach S/6 were in pursuance
of the object of the conspiracy. The conspiracy hatched
by these persons further appears to be a part of a larger conspiracy
to create terror and destabilise the Administration.
According to Justice
Nanavati, Maulvi Hussain Umarji from Godhra was the brain behind the
events. Two of the main accused, Salim Panwala et Farukh Bhana, are
absconding, very likely having fled to Pakistan. The report named a
few others, with various degrees of involvement in the events, but they
are unlikely to be troubled in view of their political connections.
Heartstrings for whom?
It is easy to see why the Nanavati Report
was frowned upon by Citizens for Justice and Peace, namely Activist
Teesta Setalvad who asked the Supreme Court to
restrain the Gujarat Government from acting upon, circulating and publishing
Fortunately on October 13th, 2008, the highest court sharply turned
down the petition, thus making the testimonies and inquiries available
to all (the Nanavati
Report is available on the Internet).
However, under pressure from the UPA Government
and pestered by the National Human Rights Commission and Citizens
for Justice and Peace NGO, on October 21st, 2008, the Supreme Court
directed that the Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) could not be used
against the 134 accused in the Godhra train burning incident, whose
trial was to be held under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
This amounted to accepting prima facie that the guilty were not
terrorists: we are allowed to call them militants,
but not terrorists. This ruling will have nationwide impact,
as other State governments may have to drop charges under POTA against
those accused of indulging in terrorist activities. The recent terrorist
attacks on Mumbai (on November 26th) demonstrate the danger of such
Pattern for Harmony
This appears to be a pattern: whenever
Muslim riots or bomb attacks target Hindus, it is thought acceptable
to accuse the victims, in order to avoid possible revolts. Thus in 1993
in Mumbai, after eleven coordinated bomb blasts in Hindu majority areas,
which killed 257 people and injured 713, the then Maharashtra Chief
Minister Sharad Pawar quickly cooked up a twelfth explosion in
a Muslim area! I
have deliberately misled people,
he explained later, to show that both communities had been affected.
And to portray both communities potential to behave as terrorists!
Truth and clarity of mind are the casualties.
We remember the great art historian A.K.
Coomaraswamys words in 1909:
It is unfortunate that libels
upon nations and religions cannot be punished as can libels upon
had greatly suffered throughout all those years. Through a devastating
Bhuj region earthquake in January 2001, in which more than 20,000 people
died; the pilgrims burned alive at Godhra in Feb. 2002 and just six months
later another terrorist attack in the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar,
where thirty-three peaceful worshippers were brutally gunned down (with
seventy injured). Amidst those tragedies the people of Gujarat seemed
to have no doubt whatsoever regarding the sincerity of their Chief Minister,
whose administration happens to be among the least corrupt in the whole
of India. State elections were held twice since those events: in December
2002 and December 2007. How is it that Narendra Modi won landslide victories
on both occasions despite extremely hostile and sustained media campaigns,
seeking to demonise him as a blood-thirsty ruler?
Official India has
chosen to forget a millennium of Islamic intolerance and brutality.
Millions of butchered Indians have no right to be remembered, not even
in history textbooks, where invaders are sometimes turned into heroes.
Sadly, this ostrich-like attitude leaves the wounds open and condemns
us to relive the past rather than heal it.
Nicole Elfi left France thirty-four years ago for
India, drawn to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She participated in publication
of works related to them and in research on Indian culture, authoring
two books in French; the second one, Aux
Sources de lInde was published June 2008. Contact email:
Notes & references
 See Commission
of Inquiry Report of Justice G.T. Nanavati & Justice Akshay H. Mehta
Report for short
further below): p. 71-84: 97-125; p.86: 128; p.89-90: 130; p.170: 223;
p.172: 226-27; p.174-175: 229; the integral text is available on the
website of the Gujarat Government: http://home.gujarat.gov.in/homedepartment/downloads/godharaincident.pdf See also Godhra the Missing Rage, by S.K. Modi (New
Delhi: Ocean Books, 2004).
 One of the main vehicles
was out of order, as its clutch-plates had been taken out a few days
earlier. On their arrival on 27.02.02 in their office, firemen found
that the other fire engine had been tampered with. (Justice Tewatia
Report and Justice Nanavati Report: p.88-89: 131.)
 To which Gujarat Chief Secretary sent a request
to grant further time of 15 days, as the
State machinery is busy with the law & order situation, it would
take some time to collect the information and compile the report.
 See Balbir Punj in Outlook, May 27th and
July 8th; also in The New Indian Express, March 8th, 2002.
 See Vadodara Sessions Court, Best Bakery Case,
Justice H.U. Mahidas Judgement, June 27th, 2003.
 Columnist Arvind Lavakare in Blindfolded
in Best Bakery (9.9.2020),
The Gujarat government quickly appointed three public pleaders for the
purpose of suing [Justice Anand] for contempt of court; these pleaders,
in turn, filed an application before the Vadodara judge asking him to
move the state's high court to punish the contemnor who, they said,
had insulted the honour and dignity of the judge, besides undermining
the entire judiciary. But Justice Anand went to the Supreme
Court even before an appeal against the Vadodara verdict could be thought
out by the Gujarat government. His NHRC petitioned the apex court to
order a re-trial of the 21 'not guilty' Best Bakery accused. And the
re-trial demanded is one that should be out of Gujarat state!
Though article 20(2) of the Constitution of India prohibits trial
for the same offence twice (M. N. Buch, The Indian Express, Mumbai,
August 13th, 2003).
 Section 191 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, says,
legally bound by an oath or by an express provision of law to state
the truth or being bound by law to make a declaration upon any subject,
makes any statement which is false, and which he either knows to or
believes to be false or does not believe to be true, is said to give
Section 193 lays down that punishment for the offence of giving false
imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable
 Social activist and Secretary of the NGO Citizens
for Justice and Peace, and co-editor of Communalism Combat,
a CPI-CPI(M) affiliated magazine.
 Zaheera isnt the only one to seek police
protection from activist Teesta Setalvad. Rais Khan, who worked closely
with her, now feels under threat and recently asked for it too.
 As it happens, a
host of Gujarat riot case victims were misled into signing affidavits
giving false information at the behest of Setalvads Citizens
for Justice and Peace, which was instrumental in organising payment
of Rs. 1 lakh each to ten witnesses in various post-Godhra riot. Among
the recipients, four are Best Bakery case witnesses. A list of names
were sent to the CPI(Marxist) relief fund, and demand drafts were handed
out at a function in Ahmedabad on August 26th, 2007 by CPI(M) politburo
member Brinda Karat, Teesta Setalvad and Rais Khan. Incidentally, those
who were both victims and eyewitnesses received 100,000 rupees, some
others 50,000 rupees, while the victims got a mere 5,000 rupees each.
This has raised eyebrows over the selection of beneficiaries and the
purpose of paying a disproportionately large sum to the eyewitnesses
before the trial. See
Navin Upadhyay, Daily Pioneer, Dec. 20th, 2008:
 South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch
and author of the report.
 This New York-based Human Rights
Watch, still watches the Indian shores closely, as it appears, but not
to protect innocent lives. On Dec. 3rd, 2008, just a week after the
ghastly Nov. 26th terrorist attacks in Mumbai, HRW issued a statement
to the Government of India, offering gratuitous advice on how to manage
its affairs and demanding that investigators should respect the human
rights of captured terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab (also called Butcher
A commentator in The Jerusalem Post pointed out,
The HRWs website lists 38 reports attacking counter-terrorism
efforts around the globe but only three on the brutal impact of terrorism
on civilians. See
also Kanchan Guptas excellent article, Mumbais
Butcher and human rights,
in The Pioneer, Dec. 17th, 2008.
 Council for International Affairs and Human Rights
(governing body for the term 2001-2003), New Delhi. Facts
Speak for Themselves: Godhra and After,
A Field Study by Justice D. S. Tewatia, Dr. J.C. Batra, Dr. Krishan
Singh Arya, Shri Jawahar Lal Kaul, Prof. B. K. Kuthiala. Available online
 The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) is a pro-Hindu
 The Sangh Parivar is a network of pro-Hindu organizations
deriving from the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh (RSS).
 The UPA is a coalition of political parties,
the main one being the Congress presided over by Sonia Gandhi; Manmohan
Singh is the Prime Minister. As many as 10 Cabinet ministers (at the
helm of Indias affairs till today ) as well as 93 Lok Sabha
MPs face criminal charges ranging from rape, extortion and murder (Association
of Democratic Reforms, New Delhi, in The New Indian Express,
Dec. 6th, 2006).
 Among its specific tasks, the Nanavati Commission
was required by the Government to consider: Role
and conduct of the then Chief Minister and/or any other Minister(s)
in his council of Ministers, Police Officers, other individuals and
organizations in both the events referred to in clauses (a) and (b);
(e) Role and conduct (i) in dealing with any political or non-political
organization which may be found to have been involved in any of the
events referred to hereinabove; (ii) in the matter of providing protection,
relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots (iii) in
the matter of recommendations and directions given by National Human
Rights Commission from time to time.
By that notification the Government also included within the scope of
inquiry the incidents of violence that had taken place till 31-5-2002.
 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in Essays in National
Idealism, p.143 (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1981).
of Justice Nanavati-Shah Inquiry Commission report
(18 September 2020)
223. Ajay Bariya in his statements
recorded by the police on 4.7.2020 and J.M.F.C. Godhra on 9.7.2020
has stated that on 27-2-2002, he had gone to Godhra railway station
at about 7.00 a.m. After referring to the incident of Mohmad Latika,
he has stated that after the chain was pulled and the train had
stopped, he had gone out of the station. Shaukat Lalu had met
him there and told him to run along with them. So he had gone
with them to the backside of Aman Guest House. Shaukat and others
had then gone inside the room of Razak Kurkur and come out with
Kerbas. He was asked to put one Kerba in the rickshaw which was
standing nearby. Petrol like smell was coming from it. Thereafter
others had also come there with Kerbas and they were all kept
in the tempy. All of them had then got into that vehicle which
after passing through Bhamaiya nala and Ali Masjid had stood near
the railway track near 'A' cabin. Each one of them was asked by
Shaukat Lalu to carry one Kerba with him. At that time he had
come to know that the train was to be set on fire. They had run
towards the train through the foot track. He himself was reluctant
go with those persons but Shaukat Lalu had compelled him to go
along with them. He has then described in his statement how the
coaches were attacked and coach S/6 was set on fire. According
to him, Shaukat Lalu and Mohmad Latika had forcibly opened the
sliding door of S/6 leading to coach S/7 and entered coach S/6
through that door. Hasan Lalu had thrown a burning rag which had
led to the fire in S/6.
224. It is rightly pointed out by the Jan Sangharsh
Manch that there was no prior information with the police and
the authorities at Gandhinagar regarding the return journey of
the Karsevaks from Ayodhya as can be gathered from the evidence
of Mahobatsinh Zala (W-17), Raju Bhargav (W-31), DGP K.A. Chakravarti,
Addl. DGP R.B. Shreekumar (W-995) and Ashok Narayanan, Chief Secretary,
Home Department (W-994). Under the circumstances prevailing then,
movements of Karsevaks was not a matter of concern. That appears
to be the reason, why the police had not thought it necessary
to keep itself informed about (171) their movements.
Merely because the police was not aware about
the return journey of Karsevaks from Ayodhya, it would not follow
therefrom that no one had known about their return journey from
Ayodhya. Anyone who wanted to know about it could have obtained
that information easily. Therefore, it would not be correct to
say that there was no scope for any conspiracy, as the alleged
conspirators did not know that Karsevaks were going to return
from Ayodhya by that train. VHP had already announced earlier
its plan of taking Ramsevaks to Ayodhya for the 'Purnahuti Maha
225. It is also true that some other train
carrying Karsevaks going to Ayodhya had passed through Godhra
railway station and the conspirators could have attacked them
in pursuance of the object of the conspiracy to burn a coach carrying
Ramsevaks and it was not necessary for them to wait till the morning
of 27th February, 2002. Other possibilities cannot make doubtful
what really has happened. Why the conspirators chose the Sabarmati
Express train coming from Ayodhya and why coach S/6 thereof was
made the target, was obviously the result of many factors, including
what was desired by and suitable to the conspirators. Unless the
conspirators who took that decision disclose the real reason,
it would be a matter of drawing an inference from the surrounding
facts and circumstances. It appears that the decision to put the
plan into action was taken on the previous evening. On 26.2.2021
at about 9.30 p.m. the first step for procuring petrol was taken.
It is likely that the conspirators had decided to burn a coach
of this train as it used to pass Godhra during the night. That
would have enabled them to carry out their object without being
noticed and identified. It appears that because the train was
running late, they had to make some changes in their plan and
circulate a false rumour regarding abduction of a Ghanchi Muslim
girl. That was done in order to collect large number of persons
near the train and induce them to attack it, so that they get
sufficient time to go near the train with petrol. It was also
an (172) attempt to show that what happened was done by an angry
mob because of the earlier incidents which had taken place at
the station. The mob consisting of the general public would not
have set coach S/6 on fire on the basis of the false rumour as
their attempt in that case would have been to stop the train,
search for the abducted girl and rescue her.
226. Ranjitsinh Jodhabhai Patel and Prabhatsinh
Gulabsinh Patel serving at Kalabhai's petrol pump were present
at the petrol pump on 26.2.2021 at about 10.00 p.m. Both of them
have stated that at about that time Rajak Kurkur and Salim Panwala
had come there and told Prabhatsinh to give them about 140 litres
of petrol. Petrol was filled in the carboys which were brought
in a tempy rickshaw. Prabhatsinh has further stated that Jabir
Binyamin, Shaukat Lalu and Salim Jarda had come in the tempy.
Both these witnesses have explained in their statements why they
had earlier told the police that they had not given loose petrol
to any one in a carboy on 26.2.2002.
227. On the basis of the facts and circumstances
proved by the evidence the Commission comes to the conclusion
that burning of coach S/6 was a pre-planned act. In other words
there was a conspiracy to burn coach S/6 of the Sabarmati Express
train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the Karsevaks travelling
in that coach.
228. The confessions of Jabir Binyamin Behra,
Shaukat alias Bhano son of Faruk Abdul Sattar and Salim alias
Salman son of Yusuf Sattar Jarda have also been placed before
the Commission for its consideration. Jabir Behra had made a confession
before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Panchmahal District under
section 164 of Cr.P.C. The confessions of Shaukat and Salim were
recorded under the provisions of Prevention of Terrorism Act,
2002. It was contended by the Jan (173) Sanghars Manch that the
Commission should not consider the confessions of the accused
as the findings that may be recorded by this Commission are likely
to cause prejudice to the accused in the trial which is pending
before the Sessions Court. This objection was raised at an earlier
stage of inquiry and it was rejected by passing an order. .
The inquiry before by the Commission is a fact finding inquiry
and therefore, the Commission can look into and consider any piece
of evidence for finding out the correct facts provided it is satisfied
about its correctness. (174)
229. Jabir Behra in his confession dated 5.2.2021
has stated that he had gone with Salim Panwala to the petrol pump
of Kalabhai for bringing petrol. Though the carboys filled with
petrol were kept in the guest house of Rajak Kurkur, Salim Panwala
had then gone to the Station to inquire whether the train was
on time or was running late. Returning there from he had informed
them that the train was running late by about 4 hours. Therefore,
he had gone to home. He had again gone back to Aman Guest House
at about 6.00 o'clock in the morning of 27th. Along with Salim
Panwala, Shaukat Lalu and others he had gone in the tempy along
with carboys to a place near 'A' cabin. He has further stated
that Mohmed Latika had cut the vestibule between coach S/6 and
S/7 and entered the coach through that opening and he had also
followed him. Both of them had then together by force opened the
door of coach S/6. They had gone inside with two carboys. Shaukat
Lalu had followed them and opened the door of coach on A cabin
side. Through that door Imran Sheri, Rafik Batuk and Shaukat Lalu
had come inside the coach with more carboys. Those carboys were
thrown in the coach and immediately thereafter there was a fire
in the coach. Shaukat Lalu has also in his confession dated 19.8.2020
given these details. Salim Jarda in his confession dated 20.06.2020
has also stated that he had accompanied Salim Panwala, Siraj Bala,
Jabir and Shaukat Lalu while going to the petrol pump of Kalabhai
at about 9.30 p.m. for procuring petrol. He has also referred
to the message sent by the Maulvi Saheb. Since he was reluctant
to take any further part in such a bad act Rajak Kurkur had not
allowed him to go. He was forced to stay in one room of the Guest
House. He has then stated that next day morning he, along with
Jabir Behra, Irfan, Shaukat Lalu and others had put the petrol
filled carboys in the tempy and gone near A cabin. Rajak Kurkur
and Salim Panwala had also followed them. He had thereafter not
taken any part in the attack on the train and had remained standing
at some distance.
All these three persons have retracted their
(175) confessions but that by itself is not a good ground for
throwing them out of consideration. When considered along with
other facts proved by the evidence details given by this accused
regarding the manner in which coach S/6 was burnt appear to be
true. These confessions disclose that Rajak Kurkur and Salim Panwala
were the two main persons who had organized execution of the plan
and that what was being done was according to what was planned
earlier and the directions of Maulvi Umarji. All the acts like
procuring petrol, circulating false rumour, stopping the train
and entering in coach S/6 were in pursuance of the object of the
conspiracy. The conspiracy hatched by these persons further appears
to be a part of a larger conspiracy to create terror and destabilise
229. The Commission is required to consider
the role and conduct of the then Chief Minister and/or any other
Minister(s) in his Council of Ministers, Police Officers other
individuals and organizations in the Godhra incident (i) in dealing
with any political or non-political organization which may be
found to have been involved in the Godhra incident and also (ii)
in the matter of providing protection, relief and rehabilitation
to the victims of communal riots and (iii) in the matter of recommendations
and directions given by National Human Rights Commission from
time to time. There is absolutely no evidence to show that either
the Chief Minister and/or any other Minister(s) in his Council
of Ministers or Police offices had played any role in the Godhra
incident or that there was any lapse on their part in the matter
of providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims
of communal riots or in the matter of not complying with the recommendations
and directions given by National Human Rights Commission. There
is no evidence regarding involvement of any definite religious
(176) or political organization in the conspiracy. Some individuals
who had participated in the conspiracy appear to be involved in
the heinous act of setting coach S/6 on fire.
230. The policemen who were assigned the duty
of travelling in the Sabarmati Express train from Dahod to Ahmedabad
had not done so and for this negligent act of their an inquiry
was held by the Government and they have been dismissed from service.
Ahmedabad. (G.T. Nanavati)
(Akshay H. Mehta)
September 18, 2020 Chairman Member
See the integral text
on the website of the Gujarat Government : http://home.gujarat.gov.in/homedepartment/downloads/godharaincident.pdf