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Glimmer of justice

Print edition : Apr 23, 2010 T+T-
in Surat

March 27, 2010, was an important day for Zakia Jafri, the 70-year-old widow of former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, who was killed by a mob that attacked Gulberg Society, a residential colony in Ahmedabad, during the 2002 riots. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court that was investigating the riots. It was for the first time in India that a Chief Minister was called for questioning in connection with a criminal investigation.

It was Zakia Jafris petition and relentless legal battle that forced the most powerful man in Gujarat to defend himself against charges of alleged involvement in the 2002 pogrom, in which over 1,500 people were killed. Zakia Jafri accused Modi and 62 others of conspiring and plotting to kill her husband and many others residing in the houses in Gulberg Society. Sixty-eight of the approximately 100 residents of the colony were killed in the attack on February 28, 2002.

On March 27, Zakia Jafri sat in front of television cameras from 8-30 a.m. giving interviews about her petition and the consequent summoning of Modi. She may be old and frail but she says age and illnesses will not stop her from fighting.

That day Frontline caught up with the feisty Ammi, as Zakia Jafri is affectionately known. As she watched on TV Modis convoy of vehicles turn into the SIT office in Gandhinagar, she commented: Look at the security he has just to go to the SIT office. Not a single policeman came to us when we were getting killed and crying and begging for help.

Alternating between smiles and tears and in between television interviews, Zakia Jafri spoke about the past eight years. Finally, after all these years, there was a glimmer of justice, she said.

Your petition to the SIT has been calling for an investigation into Narendra Modis alleged complicity in the riots, in particular, the Gulberg Society case. With the SIT summoning Modi, do you believe the process of justice has begun?

It has taken eight years to get him here. Let us first see what he says. At least he has appeared before the SIT. Let us see if he agrees to the accusations. We need to see what he says. But yes, I have faith in the SIT and I have immense faith in Allah. This is a big step. I am hopeful we will get justice, however long it takes.

Why did you take on this battle? After all, Modi is a very powerful man. Could you tell us about your struggles in these years?

There is no doubt Modi is an extremely powerful man. You have read and you know what we went through those two days after Godhra. Anyone would seek justice. My husband was killed while trying to protect us. He saw girls being raped, peoples limbs hacked off. Because the mob could not get him they attacked others. He knew he had to save us and thats when he went out to plead with the mob. They hacked his body into parts and then burnt him.

How can we live with this without fighting? My husband was a good and kind man. I will fight for him and for the thousands who have suffered like us. It was Teesta [Setalvad] and the Committee for Peace and Justice [CJP] who came to us and said they would fight our case. We have been battling ever since 2002. I deposed before the Nanavati Commission. Whenever the SIT calls, I go. I have even gone to the Supreme Court. I will do whatever it takes to get justice. We lost everything when we ran from Gulberg Society. My home is now with my son in Surat. I could never go back to Ahmedabad. I could never go back to Gulberg Society where blood ran like a river that day.

Eight years is a long time. Have you ever felt that this investigation is never going to end, that you may never get the justice you are looking for? What in your mind would be justice?

Yes. It has been a long time. But when I heard Modi had been summoned, I said Insaf ho jahega [justice will happen]. Someone like Modi cannot be accused of such a major crime without adequate evidence. We have persevered at collecting every relevant detail to implicate him. One day it will pay off. If he admits to his guilt, that itself would be a punishment for someone like him.

Let him give a rajinama [confessional statement]. All of this will amount to some form of justice. Furthermore, if an FIR [first information report] is filed following the interrogation, that will also be a step forward.

Your petition says your husband was targeted by those who orchestrated the riots?

My husband was an MP in [19]79-80. After the Emergency, when the Congress was routed in the State, he still managed to win the Ahmedabad seat. Such was his popularity. He remained very active in politics and had become a top leader from Gujarat. The party had sent him to Rajkot to oversee the elections that were coming. Modi always felt threatened by my husband.

On February 26, 2002, he came home to celebrate our festival. The VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] had declared a bandh the next day, and so he was unable to return to Rajkot. We are certain that those who were behind the riots knew he was there and sent the mobsters to our Gulberg Society.

They kept shouting to send him out. Most of the societys people had gathered in our house. He told me to go to the first floor and rest. I was praying so hard that the beads in my hand began melting or breaking and my lips turned black out of fear. Eventually, when there was no alternative, he went and offered them money in order to spare us. But they killed him.

Every year you pay homage to your lost ones at Gulberg Society and you have been working hard in ensuring communal peace. Can you say something about this?

Only one family out of the 20 who lived in Gulberg Society continues to live there. A father and his only son. No one else in his family survived. The houses are all burnt. The grass is up to your chest and its difficult to walk as the trees have fallen.

To remember our loved ones, we go every year on February 28, light lamps in our houses, put some flowers and give food to the poor. It has become an annual tradition, and many people come to pay homage, not just to the Gulberg Society victims but to the thousands who lost their lives in the carnage.