Analysis | Flow | Events | Godhra Riots | 15th July 2022 | Virtual Wire
India since its partition in 1947 has been a subject of consistent and consequent riots. The riots had several secondary and tertiary issues, but the primary issue which had fuelled these riots was the attempts to show the supremacy of one religion over the other.
It is said that the two banks on two sides of the Sabarmati river in Gujarat represent two fortresses where there is a dominance of Hindus and Muslims on each of the banks respectively so when a riot breaks out the river water does not take much time to turn red. These riots are mainly incited by the local political and religious leaders to succeed upon their respective hidden agendas mainly to influence the electoral results in their favour, the local unemployed mob is mainly hired to cause barbaric atrocities in the name of religious ideals on the otherwise business-oriented Memon community Descendents who mainly travelled from Afghanistan in search of cultivable land in Gujarat. A branch of them mixed with the local Gujarati community to an extent of losing their own identity of Memon Descendents the rest we know as the Parsi community who speak the same language as Gujaratis do. One of the riots or rather the deadly riots that the Post-Independent India saw was that in Gujarat.
On 27th February the Sabarmati Express while returning from Ayodhya halted at the Godhra Station for refreshments while reaching its destination in Ahmadabad. Most of the passengers who were travelling in the train were Hindu Pilgrims. At a fix of the moment, an argument erupted between the passengers and the vendors at the station. It is still not clear what incited this incident but somehow by an accident or other attempts four coaches of the Sabarmati Express caught fire and in this horrendous conflagration, 59 of the passengers were burnt alive ( 9 of them being men, 25 women and 25 children) all identified as pilgrims from Ayodhya. K.G Shah was appointed by the Gujarat Government as a one-man commission to look into the matter but later G.T Nanavati was appointed in the same post as allegations were made of the biased investigation of the incident on account of Mr. Shah being close to the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Damodardas Modi.
In 2003, The Concerned Citizens Tribunal (CCT) came to a conclusion that the fire was almost a cause of the accident, with the report stating that the actual fire came from an undetermined source. The Union government led by the Indian National Congress party 2005 set up a committee to probe the incident. The committee was headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Umesh Chandra Banerjee. This report also concluded that the fire was accidental. However, in 2006 the credibility of the committee was ruled out since the riot was an interstate matter and the extra-Judicial recommendations were considered unconstitutional. It took nearly six years for the Nanavati-Mehta commission to submit its preliminary report which concluded that the fire was an act of arson, committed by a local mob of 1000-2000 locals. The masterminds who were suspected were Maulavi Hussain Haji Ibrahim Umarji and Central Reserve Police Force Officer Nanumiya.
In 2011 31 people were convicted and 63 of them were acquitted on account of instigating violence under the Indian Penal Code stating that the riot was a pre-planned activity based on a grave conspiracy theory. Maulavi Umarji was one of the suspects acquitted along with 62 others and out of the 31 convicted 11 were sentenced to death. M.D. Antani the then deputy superintendent of police, deployed the Rapid Action Force in the sensitive areas of Godhra. Gordhan Zadafia, the Minister of State for Home, believed there would be no retaliation from the Hindu community for the burning train. It was stated by the Chief Minister that the violence would be soon brought under control but as reported the state had only deported the armed forces after 01st March when the worst phase of the riot was over. About 230 mosques and 274 dargahs were destroyed during the violence. For the first time in the history of communal riots, Hindu women took part, looting Muslim shops. An estimated 1,50,000 were displaced during the violence. 200 police officers were dead while trying to control the riots.
Narendra Damodardas Modi (born 17 September 1950) is an Indian politician serving as the 14th and current prime minister of India since 2014. Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi. He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization. He is the first prime minister to have been born after India's independence in 1947 and the second prime minister not belonging to the Indian National Congress to have won two consecutive majorities in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of India's parliament. He is also the longest-serving prime minister from a non-Congress party.
The Violence began
Attack on the Muslims
Followed by the train incident a statewide strike was called by the Vishva Hindu Parishad. It was an order issued by the Supreme court that no such strikes shall be called for and the State Government shall take the necessary steps to curb the Strike as much as possible. On the contrary, even when the mob was resorting to violence to show the intensity of the Strike the State Government did not do anything for curbing the atrocities being committed. The reports of various NGOs showed that the State BJP President Rana Rajendrasinh was in full support of the strike and had even endorsed it, while the then Chief Minister of state was held responsible for inciting the crowd to violence.
Ehsan Jafri (1929 – 28 February 2002) was an Indian politician and former member of the 6th Lok Sabha for the Congress Party, who was killed in the massacre. A Special Investigating Team appointed by the Supreme Court of India concluded that he was killed after he fired at an agitated Hindu mob outside his house. His widow Zakia Jafri has subsequently alleged that the state of Gujarat and its then-chief minister, now the current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, were partly responsible for the violence and lack of police intervention in favour of the victims at Gulbarg Society. The argument was rejected by a Special Investigation Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2008. A review petition was filed by her which gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi a clean chit. A three-judge bench of The Supreme Court rejected her review petition, giving the reason that "the petition is devoid of any merit"
It was declared by Modiji that the attack on the train was an intentional act of terrorism and not just a matter of communal violence. It was also propagated that the Pakistani Intelligence Agency had helped the people who set the train on fire and it was a conspiracy of the neighbouring country to harm the Hindus of the State. The Local Newspapers utilized the public sentiments on the riots to increase their sales based on the spiced-up and literally falsified news that the Hindu women were being raped by the Muslims and consequently being trafficked to Pakistan. The news was quite successful in inciting the most violent of the riots that India would get to see in the next couple of days.
As per the various news cuttings of that time, the attack on the Muslim Community began on 28th February. As the riot survivors would say the mob had the voter Id of each locality based on the area they were sent atroticize and would selectively damage the Muslim-owned properties and when faced even with a Scintillation of resistance would end up killing the opposition and the whole of the family, the rate of Barbarism that was shown on the Muslim Children and Women shall not be described in this article as the author does not wish to write anything that can blotch the dignity of women and the epitome of motherhood., but suffice to be said that the mob did everything that can be done for harming a women body. The victims kept on calling the police for help, but the response they received was not a very good one as they were ordered not to help the victims by the higher authorities instead on numerous occasions the police were seen accompanying the mob in vandalizing the minority community in every way possible.
Attack on Hindus
As per the Ahmadabad Police records, there were 157 cases where the Muslims had attacked Hindus. On 1st March Mahajan, No Vando was were vandalized by the Muslim mobs killing 25 Hindu residents and destroying 5 houses. The police was quite active in responding to the phone calls made by the victims but the action taken was ineffectual since it reached a practising time when the mob was gone and the destruction was done. The Bhilwas locality was also under attack by the Muslim mob the Hindu doctors were asked to stop practicing in the locality after one of them was stabbed.
Teesta Setalvad (born 9 February 1962) is an Indian civil rights activist and journalist. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), an organization formed to advocate for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots In June 2022, she was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Gujarat Police and remanded to police custody until July 1. She was taken from her residence in Juhu, Mumbai to Ahmadabad, Gujarat. Mary Lawlor, a UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, has expressed concern over Setalvad's arrest. Amnesty International India has said that Setalvad's arrest is a 'direct reprisal' against human rights activists. Prashant Bhushan has criticized the Supreme Court judges for naming Setalvad in their judgment dismissing Zakia Jafri's petition. Protests by citizens were held in Kolkata and Bangalore against her arrest.
Girish Thakorlal Nanavati (17 February 1935 – 18 December 2021) was an Indian judge who was a Justice of the Supreme Court of India. After his retirement, he headed two commissions inquiring into the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots and the Godhra riots. In March 2002, Judge Nanavati was appointed to head a two-man commission investigating the 2002 Godhra riots, replacing Judge K. G. Shah. Throughout the proceedings and in its final report of November 2014, the commission concluded that there had been no serious lapses by either the police or the state administration in dealing with the riots. The report itself has yet to be made public. Nanavati was appointed by the National Democratic Alliance government to probe the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots. He was the sole member of the Nanavati commission. The commission incriminated Indian National Congress politicians Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. Nanavati has stated that evidence indicated that it was a "lapse on part of the civil administration" not to call the Indian Army in a timely fashion, "resulting in large-scale rioting and loss of lives".
Bilkis Bano, and her family, were among the many victims of the 2002-post Godhra riots in Gujarat but the case stood out for the sheer brutality. Bilkis Bano, and her family, were among the many victims of the 2002-post Godhra riots in Gujarat but the case stood out for the sheer brutality. On February 28, 2002, after violence erupted following the Sabarmati Express fire in Godhra, Bilkis, who was five months pregnant and a resident of Radhikpur village in Dahod district, Gujarat, fled her village with her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Saleha, and 15 other family members. They decided to escape after the accused wreaked havoc in her home town on Bakr-Id day setting fire to houses and looting the belongings of Muslims.
The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) (transl. World Council of Hindus) is an Indian right-wing Hindu organization based on Hindu nationalism. The VHP was founded in 1964 by M. S. Golwalkar and S. S. Apte in collaboration with Swami Chinmayananda. Its stated objective is "to organise, consolidate the Hindu society and to serve and protect the Hindu Dharma". It was established to construct and renovate Hindu temples, and deal with matters of cow slaughter and conversion. The VHP has been criticized for contributing to violence against Muslims in India, most notably for its role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 over the Ayodhya dispute. The VHP is considered a member of the Sangh Parivar group, an umbrella term for Hindu nationalist organizations led by the RSS.
Rajendrasinh Ghanshyamsinh Rana (born 22 May 1956) is an Indian politician who was a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India, from 1996 to 2014. He is the great-grandson of S. R. Rana (1870–1957), who was an Indian political activist, founding member of the Paris Indian Society and the vice-president of the Indian Home Rule Society. He represented the Bhavnagar constituency of Gujarat for five terms of the Parliament. He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and served as the President of the state unit of the BJP from 1998 to 2006. He did not contest the 2014 Indian general election.
Manoj D. (Mayur) Antani (born June 7, 1954), is a retired Indian Police Service officer for the Indian government. In 2011, he was appointed Home Secretary of Gujarat. Prior to that, he was the Regional Passport Officer in 2004. Antani, the former SP of Bharuch, was transferred out of Bharuch to the Narmada district in March 2002 for taking action against some BJP/VHP supporters creating political turmoil in Bharuch. He was later given the rank of deputy superintendent (DSP). DSP Antani became a public figure in India shortly afterwards, as he was the most senior ranking officer during the Godhra train burning. The train burning led to significant rioting, resulting in the death of over 100 people. Antani played a role in maintaining law and order throughout the riots. Since his time in Godhra, Mr. Antani has received several awards for his performance; however, has also received much controversy for his stance against prominent political figures. His most recent award is the Manager of the Year Award in 2007 presented by Uday Kotak, vice-chairman of Kotak-Mahindra Bank at IIM (Indian Institute of Management).
Gordhan Zadafia (born 20 June 1954) is an Indian politician from Gujarat, India. He was a leader in Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) for 15 years before joining Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He served as the General Secretary of BJP in Ahmedabad city and was elected twice as a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly during 1995–97 and 1998–2002. He was a Minister of State for Home and Security and Police Housing (Independent Charge) during 2001–2002 in the state Government of Gujarat led by Narendra Modi. He was accused of involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Following a break with Narendra Modi after 2002, he pursued other political parties, competing against BJP, but eventually rejoined BJP in 2014.
The legal proceedings got hampered because the witnesses were tampered with them being paid a lump sum bribe to change the testimonies they were going to present in court, and many had their names deleted from the Charge sheet. The state judiciary was also biased towards the perpetrators of the massacre. After a lacklustre attitude of more than two years with more than 70% of the culprits getting acquitted the Supreme court stepped in into the matter transferring most of the cases to the Bombay High Court and reopening some 1,600 odd cases being reopened which had been previously shut by the Gujarat Government, The Supreme Court ordered the formation of a Special Investigative team in March 2008, the former CBI director R.K.Raghavan would be appointed as the head of the investigative team, but still there was a huge percentage of biasedness in the investigative team since most of the team deployed were Gujaratis and Mr. Raghavan did not spend much time in Gujarat except for a few days of each month cases.
The highlights of some case are given below-
Best Bakery Case
The Best Bakery Murder trial received widespread attention after witnesses retracted testimony from the court and the accused were acquitted. The Supreme court acting on a petition by social activist Teesta Setalvad, ordered a retrial outside Gujarat in which 9 accused were found guilty in 2006. A key witness Zaheera Sheikh, who repeatedly changed her testimony during trials and petitions was also found guilty of perjury.
Bilkis Bano Case
Bilkis Bano approached the National Human Rights Commission and petitioned the Supreme court for reinvestigation after police dismissed the case against her assailants. The motion was granted in the Supreme Court directing the Central Bureau Of Investigation to take up Investigations. Experts from Central Forensic Science laboratory were called for along with doctors of AIIMS. Dr. T.D Dogra of AIIMS took the lead in exhuming mass graves to establish their cause of death and their identities respectively. With the interference of the Supreme Court the case was taken out of the Gujarat State with the Central Government being urged to select a public prosecutor. Charges were filed in a Mumbai Court against 19 people as well as a doctor over their role in diverting the investigation results. Finally, Bilkis Bano won the case on 23rd April 2019 when the Supreme Court asked the Gujarat Government to hand her a compensation of 50 lacs, a Government job and a plot in the area of her choice.
The Vadodara fast track court acquitted 108 people accused of murdering two youths during a mob attack on a group of displaced Muslims returning under police escort to their homes in Avdhootnagar in 2005. Strictures were passed against the police for not being able to protect the people under their escort and intentionally not identifying the mob who attacked the escort.
Naroda Patiya Massacre
30 people were convicted in the Naroda Patiya Massacre on 29th July 2012. The list of convicts included former state minister Maya Kodnani and Hindu leader Babu Bajrangi. The case began in 2009 and over 300 people testified before the court. For the first time, the verdict acknowledged the role of a politician in inciting the Hindu mobs. It was asserted by the activists that the verdict would embolden the opponent of Narendra Modi who would later go on to become the runner-up in the State elections that year. Following the riots, there was a ban on Narendra Modi by a series of countries but as his popularity and prominence increased as the Prime Ministerial candidate the bans were lifted up and in July 2022 he was given a clean chit on the Godhra riot case by the Supreme Court of India.