A tribunal's verdict

Print edition : January 03, 2003

The Concerned Citizens' Tribunal, an independent team consisting of eminent jurists, indicts the Narendra Modi government for the Gujarat violence.

SOME uncomfortable questions remain to be addressed in Gujarat regardless of the choices the people made in the Assembly elections. These relate to the `mysterious' manner in which coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express caught fire and to the gross human rights violation that took place afterwards. The scope of these queries extends to the blatant use of force by the state to kill and maim members of a minority community. Some of these questions raised by the nine-member `Concerned Citizens Tribunal - Gujarat 2002', headed by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, need to be addressed with utmost urgency so that Gujarat can move towards a modicum of stability. Answers to them hold implications not only for the Bharatiya Janata Party that has made Gujarat its Hindutva laboratory, but also for the people who directly participated in the riots and others who tacitly supported them.

The Tribunal has said that the coach was set on fire `from inside'. It further says that the incident was, from the very start, politicised by the ruling BJP which went on to sponsor the systematic elimination of the Muslim community through riots. All this was done to polarise votes and ensure a win for the party in the Assembly elections. Justice P.B. Sawant, Justice Hosbet Suresh, both retired, and Senior Advocate K.G. Kannabiran said Narendra Modi, his Cabinet colleagues and organisations such as the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal were "directly responsible for the post-Godhra carnage". They added that Modi "is liable for prosecution for the crime of genocide, and refusal to take any preventive measure to protect the lives and properties of minorities in the State".

The Tribunal had prepared its report on the basis of 2,094 statements from victims, First Information Reports, eyewitness accounts, and findings of forensic investigations. Before drafting its final report, the Tribunal went through more than a dozen fact-finding reports and inquiries. According to the Tribunal, the carnage was `planned' at six levels: physical destruction of a part of the community; economic destruction; cultural and religious destruction; sexual violence and rape of women of a particular community; resistance to rehabilitation; a publicly declared desire to destroy physically and morally the Muslim community of Gujarat.

Addressing the mystery of the fire in the Sabarmati Express, the Tribunal said that the incident was not pre-planned by Muslims as alleged by the State government. The government version has been that the Ghanchi Muslims wanted to attack the kar sevaks, and 2,000 Muslims were bent on attacking the train. After visiting the area and hearing testimonies, the Tribunal ruled out such a possibility. It said that the fire came from inside and was not caused by fireballs thrown by those standing outside. The intensity of the fire was equivalent to pouring 60 litres of inflammable liquid.

The Tribunal notes: "At what point of time was this taken inside the coach, or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly, or even clandestinely, for they would have been found out in no time. So the mystery of the fire remains, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within." It said that the train-burning incident was used by the BJP for "its cynical game of politics". This was apparent in Modi's decision to take the charred bodies from Godhra to Ahmedabad even when the district administration had advised him not to do so. This was followed by a gross misrepresentation of facts by the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, which created mob hysteria over the tragedy. The riots took place in such a katzenjammer deliberately created by the BJP.

Muslim women were targeted and abused with an inhuman level of violence and sexual crime. "Economic and social boycott of the community was openly encouraged and continues in many parts of the State to date," the Tribunal says. It collected gruesome details of how in most instances of sexual violence, the victims were stripped and paraded naked, then gang-raped, and thereafter burnt beyond recognition.

"Mosques, dargahs, small shrines and other Muslim religious and cultural places were systematically destroyed and desecrated in the first 72 hours of violence all over the State," the panel observed. The Tribunal accuses the State police of "not fulfilling its constitutional duty and preventing mass massacre, rape and arson". It has accused Modi of "connivance and facilitation of the carnage, transfer of good police officers, not taking action against erring police officials or party functionaries who were named by victims, and making persistent threats to close down privately run relief camps".

IN a separate section on the role of the Chief Minister and his ministerial colleagues in the riots, the Tribunal has explicitly said that given the political will, what began in Godhra could have been stopped there. It has said that Modi was the one who took Godhra to the rest of Gujarat, and directed the police and the administration not to act. He refused shelter and succour to the victims of the carnage. He refused to buy land and rehabilitate people in new localities or to give transparent accounts of the Rs.150-crore rehabilitation package announced by the Prime Minister.

It also charged Modi with "abusive comments against the affected and victimised community, refusal to comply with NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) recommendations and not taking punitive action against provocative media reports and other organisations". The Tribunal charged Modi with influencing criminal investigation, as the names of VHP, RSS, and BJP functionaries were omitted in the charge-sheets although their names appeared in FIRs.

The Tribunal, pointing to some of the cases, has stressed that they need to be dealt with urgently. These include the massacre in Sardarpura in Mehsana district, where 33 women and children were burnt alive in a small room. In the same district, at Deepla Darwaja, 11 perons were burnt to death. The Public Prosecutor for both these cases is Dilip Trivedi, the State general secretary of the VHP. He has been following up the bail applications of the accused and ignoring the cancellations of applications by the survivors, who did so fearing for their lives.

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