Cases of complicity

Published : Sep 10, 2004 00:00 IST

The Supreme Court directive to open more than 2,000 "true but undetected" cases in Gujarat is bound to bring to light several instances of police complicity and manipulation.

BILKIS YAKUB RASUL's case was closed. The police said it was `true but undetected'. It was labelled what is called `A Summary' in legal language and shoved aside.

Fourteen members of Bilkis' family had been murdered. They were escaping from an attack on their village Randhikpur in Dahod. After two days on the run, a jeep full of village leaders waylaid them on a country road. They allegedly gang-raped the women, killed them and the children. Bilkis was also assaulted. They killed her two-year-old daughter. She laid unconscious but they mistook her for dead. She was the lone survivor.

Although Bilkis named the perpetrators in her police statement, the police said there was not enough evidence against them. They called Bilkis "unstable". The investigators said she had given contradictory statements at different times. An identification parade of her assailants, which is the norm, was not held. The case was declared closed - "true but undetected".

Supported by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Bilkis approached the Supreme Court. The court ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the case. That is when the truth came tumbling out. The CBI found that six policemen and two doctors destroyed evidence deliberately and conspired to shield the accused. They were all arrested. Now, her case has been transferred out of Gujarat to ensure a fair trial.

There are more than 2,000 such "closed" cases . That is around half of the 4,252 cases filed during the communal violence of 2002 (Frontline, March 28, 2003). Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat police to review such cases. It has asked the State government to set up a Grievance Committee with experienced police officers for a re-look into these and other cases that the police botched up. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) will work in tandem with the committee.

Acting on an application made before the Supreme Court by Harish Salve, the amicus curiae appointed to help the court in the petitions relating to the Gujarat violence, the court has felt that steps need to be taken to ensure that riot victims feel justice is being done. Salve pointed out that all petitions before the court pointed to the failure of the investigative machinery in carrying out a proper investigation and the pathetic conduct of the trials that have resulted in the large-scale granting of bails and acquittals.

CALL it the Gujarat Police's `Accused Protection Programme'. Jaggubhai, who sells vegetables to a police constable, is one of those covered by it. He is accused of burning to death 13 people who were escaping in a tempo from the attack on their basti in Delol village. Although Jaggubhai meets the constable every day, police records claim he is `absconding'. And it is business as usual.

Sultana saw Jaggubhai and his friends burn her husband to death. For her, it is not business as usual. She is in hiding in Kalol town. She has not been able to return to her home. Witnesses have no protection but the accused are immune.

The Grievance Committee will also look into such cases where the accused are listed as `absconding', while they are, in fact, roaming scot-free. Pointing out the tendency of the police to shield the accused human rights lawyer Mihir Desai said: "If they are declared absconders, the law allows the police to attach their property. But the police choose not to."

In Gujarat, several First Information Reports (FIRs) in which eyewitnesses identified politicians leading the mob have mysteriously disappeared from police records. Nanubhai Maleikh, a witness in the Naroda Gaam case in Ahmedabad, was actually imprisoned for four months on murder charges along with 11 other people. In his statement to the police, he said Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Dr. Mayaben Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) secretary Dr. Jaideep Patel were seen instructing the mob that went on the rampage in his locality. Nanubhai still cannot go back home.

Around 38 witnesses from Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad filed FIRs with the police. But their cases were all closed and annexed to the FIR filed by the police as witness statements. Naroda Patiya was the site of Gujarat's worst massacre in which more than 100 people were massacred (83 dead, according to official records). "The witnesses had identified several accused but the police case names only seven people. Moreover, their statements were part of the charge-sheet that the police filed," says Anand Yagnik, human rights lawyer. "If the Godhra accused are being charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, then why not the perpetrators of this carnage? Instead, the police are shielding them."

Even the cases that have not been closed have not been investigated properly. Yet, when the indicted are acquitted in court, it is the witnesses who are blamed. Narsimha Komar, Superintendent of Police, Panchmahal, said: "It is very difficult to prove riot cases. Witnesses turn hostile. They have to live in their villages. Even people who lodged FIRs have gone back on their initial statements." But the police did nothing to ensure that witnesses felt safe to testify.

A TASK force was set up to inquire into Mumbai's communal violence cases of 1992-93. Around 60 per cent of the riot-related cases (1,358 cases) were closed unlawfully during the tenure of the Shiv Sena-BJP government as being "true but undetected" (Frontline, March 1, 2002). The Srikrishna Commission that probed the Mumbai carnage had indicted the Shiv Sena, the police and powerful politicians for their complicity in the riots in which 900 people were killed and 2,036 people, mainly Muslims, were injured.

The Srikrishna Commission report recommended that the `A Summary' cases should be reopened. A Special Task Force (STF) was set up by the State government, following directions from the Supreme Court. The STF reopened only 112 of the 1,358 cases. Of these, all except 15 were closed once again. "It was very difficult to get evidence after all these years," said P.K. Raghuvanshi, Additional Commissioner of Police in charge of the STF. Eight new cases were also filed and 27 policemen were charge-sheeted for serious offences in five of these cases. The re-opening of over 2,000 cases that were closed in Gujarat may expose police complicity and manipulation. The truth is catching up.

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