Standing up to the state

Print edition : March 09, 2012

March 1, 2002:A policeman looks on as a row of shops burns in Ahmedabad. Former Additional DGP R.B. Sreekumar says he has proof that the riots were backed by sections in the administration.-AFP

Police officers who have stood up for the truth are made to pay for it.

IF there is anyone who can nail the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in Gujarat, it is the State's police officers. Witness to the worst communal violence seen in recent times, these officers have first-hand knowledge of the complicity of politicians in the riots and the degree of brutality and negligence of duty that marked their conduct.

Unfortunately, in the 10 years after the riots, those who decided to tell the truth have been ruthlessly targeted and sidelined. Worse, evidence submitted by them is not accepted in prosecuting the perpetrators. These officers say they have repeatedly told the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the riots that there are phone records, documents and their own testimony that can nail the culprits, but they believe the SIT has deliberately chosen to ignore and suppress their voices.

Here is information that should be treated as valuable evidence, but it is not accepted, says Father Cedric Prakash, who heads Prashant, a human rights organisation. The SIT wants to close the Zakia Jafri case because of the lack of evidence to prosecute Modi. But there is evidence glaring at them in the form of Sanjiv Bhatt's deposition. Obviously, the investigating agency is choosing to turn a blind eye, he says.

The latest casualty in the list of policemen from Gujarat who have been targeted after they raised their voices is Sanjiv Bhatt. This Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, who has an unblemished reputation, told Frontline that he had been waiting for an opportunity to prove Chief Minister Narendra Modi's culpability in the 2002 riots. When Zakia Jafri, a victim of the Gulberg Society massacre, named him as a witness in her case against Modi, he got his chance. But, in spite of several sessions with the SIT, where he reportedly provided substantial direct and circumstantial evidence, his testimony has not been accepted (see interview).

ARSONISTS IN ACTION at Khokhara in Ahmedabad. Suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has claimed that the police had instructions to go slow on the rioters.-PARAS SHAH

Bhatt was charged over a custodial death that took place in 1990. He was also charged with coercing a colleague into filing a false affidavit in support of his claim that he attended the meeting on February 27, 2002, where Modi is said to have asked the police to go slow on the rioters. It was held hours after the burning of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra. Bhatt was suspended, then arrested, and finally released on bail. He is now fighting for his reinstatement and for his evidence to be accepted by the investigating agency. We will keep up the pressure, he says.

There are others on the growing list. R.B. Sreekumar

R.B. Sreekumar, former Additional DGP (Intelligence), was among the first to face the administration's wrath. Soon after the riots, Sreekumar filed six affidavits before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission, providing details from the diaries he had maintained during his tenure as intelligence chief, which was when the riots took place. These were reportedly filled with explosive data on the role played by the Chief Minister and his foot soldiers in fuelling the violence. The State government denied him his promotion. He took his case to the Central Administrative Tribunal, which ruled in his favour.

Sreekumar said that when posted as Additional DGP, Intelligence, he had a run-in with encounter specialist D.G. Vanzara on the day of the infamous rath yatra held in July 2002. Vanzara declared he had made a dramatic haul of country-made weapons from the Daryapur area of Ahmedabad. However, when Sreekumar told the Ahmedabad Commissioner of Police that his intelligence network said the weapons came from a factory in Sabarkantha that had links with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), he was ticked off and issued a memo that questioned how Sreekumar could dare to raise such questions when the Chief Minister's office had rewarded Vanzara for his work in unearthing the hoard of weapons.

SHAKILA PATHAN, A survivor of the riots, breaks down while narrating her story at a press conference in Mumbai in March 2011.-VIVEK BENDRE

Sreekumar also recalled how G.S. Subbarao, the then Chief Secretary, told him that Modi wanted a few encounters carried out. I told him the moment we decide to carry out an encounter it becomes a conspiracy and for that we can both be arrested. He still tried to persuade me, but I refused and told him that if any are carried out I will uncover the truth behind them. Soon after this, Sreekumar was posted as Additional DGP Police Reform, considered in police circles as a nondescript posting.

Kuldip Sharma

FATIMABEN ISABHAI GHACHI with what remains of her home at Mora village in Panchmahal district. The compensation she received from the government was so meagre that she returned the cheque.-PARAS SHAH

Kuldip Sharma, Additional Director General of Police (CID), shunted to the Gujarat State Sheep and Wool Development Corporation after he played a key role in exposing State Home Minister Amit Shah's role in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. Shah had to resign eventually. Kuldip Sharma was charge-sheeted in a nine-year-old case, in which he was accused of confining a man illegally for 24 hours. After contesting his appointment, he was shifted to the Bureau of Police Reforms and Development in New Delhi.

Rahul Sharma

As Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bhavnagar, Rahul Sharma saved the lives of 300 Muslim orphans from a Hindu mob during the riots. Instead of being lauded for his effort, Sharma was transferred to the Ahmedabad Police Control Room, a post meant for an inspector.

Rahul Sharma had been asked to help with the probe into the Naroda Patiya massacre of February 28, 2002. While in the control room he collected explosive phone data record showing that rioters on the streets were in touch with policemen and politicians.

SHAHRUKH, A RIOT survivor from the Naroda Patiya area.-PARAS SHAH

He was charge-sheeted by the Gujarat government in August 2011 for passing on call records to the Nanavati Commission without informing the State administration, which it said was a breach of the Official Secrets Act. The government has alleged that some of these records are inaccurate and that a CD given by Rahul Sharma to the probe panel is a doctored one.

Rajnish Rai

Rajnish Rai, Deputy Inspector General of Police, is another casualty. Rai was removed from the fake encounters probe following the arrest of three senior police officers, including D.G Vanzara. He later indicted two retired top police officers, P.C. Pande and O.P. Mathur. Rai has said that Pande, then a DIG, in connivance with Amit Shah, conspired to kill Tulsi Prajapati, a key witness in the Sohrabuddin encounter. He has reportedly been asked to check with his superiors before making any further arrests.

Reaction of colleagues

The Gujarat Police Officers' Association has expressed its support for Bhatt. In an emergency meeting held soon after Bhatt's arrest, 35 members of the association passed resolution supporting him. This is significant because of the unholy connection between the police and politicians in Gujarat. They were sending out a clear message that they were uniting against this kind of persecution.

Officers like Sreekumar have often spoken about the rot that has permeated the force and the nexus between the police and politicians.

In a shocking example of systemic corruption, Haren Pandya, a high-profile BJP leader was killed in 2003. Pandya, who was neither a Minister nor an MLA when he was killed, reportedly told the Concerned Citizen's Tribunal headed by V.R. Krishna Iyer in May 2002 that the violence was engineered by Modi and several officials of the administration. He was found dead at the wheel of his car at a place where he normally went for his morning walk. He had been shot five times, but there was no blood splattered in the car. Clearly he had been killed elsewhere and his body was brought to this location. The location was possibly chosen because it was a place that he regularly went to, though his footwear indicated that he had not planned to exercise when he left home. Who pulled the trigger on Pandya is not known. There are numerous stories of police officers across Gujarat who have suffered because they stood up to the State's ruling politicians. Most of them have shattered careers. Then there are also stories of police officers and bureaucrats who kept quiet and went on to get plum posts and even lucrative post-retirement jobs. The silver lining is that there are many who will play their part in the fight for justice.

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