ON June 2, a special sessions court in Ahmedabad delivered the much-awaited judgment on the Gulberg Society massacre case. Justice P.B. Desai convicted 24 of the 66 accused—11 for murder and 13 for lesser offences. On June 17, the judge announced the quantum of punishment: life imprisonment until death for 11, seven years imprisonment for 12, and 10 years in jail for one. Delivering the punishment, the judge said the incident was the “darkest phase of civil society”. The court said the power of remission of the sentence lies in the hands of the legislature. However, it said the government “is advised not to remit the sentence”.
The Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad’s Chamanpura area witnessed the massacre of 69 people, including former Member of Parliament Ehsan Jafri, who was burnt and hacked to death by rampaging mobs during the 2002 communal pogrom in Gujarat. It was considered among the worst-affected areas during the riots, which raged on for days, it claimed more than 1,000 lives, injured several thousands, and many hundreds are still missing.
After a 14-year protracted legal battle, the families of the victims expected a harsher sentence and to many more of those charged because there are witness accounts of the numbers and some who even recognise the people who were part of the mob. Unfortunately, in spite of documented evidence presented to the court, investigations by the Special Investigation Team and a consistent campaign by rights activists, the judgment, say observers, just did not seem enough.
Reacting to the verdict, Zakia Jafri, wife of Ehsan Jafri, the lawyer and activist Teesta Setalvad, and Gulberg Society residents who survived the attack said that the judgment was extremely disappointing. Zakia Jafri told the media that the case had gone back to square one, but they would continue fighting it.
Teesta Setalvad told Frontline: “We were expecting at least exemplary punishment for the 24 convicted, but even that did not happen….The judgment does not reflect the goriness of the narrative. This was the second worst attack during the riots.”
Comparing it to the case of Naroda Patiya, she said, “The Naroda judgment reflected the horrors of the crime. In Gulberg’s case it is fully watered down.”
The Naroda Patiya case, which is one of the nine cases that were investigated by the SIT and had judgment delivered, was seen as a criminal conspiracy case and the convictions were far more in number, Teesta Setalvad said. The same line should have been applied to the Gulberg case, she added.
“Witnesses say when Ehsan Jafri realised that the mob was after him he decided to go out to quell it. They killed him within minutes in the most brutal manner. Does this judgment reflect that horror?” she asked. “Furthermore, there is documented evidence to show that a 4,000 to 5,000-strong mob attacked Gulberg Society. In that just 11 people have been found guilty? This is disappointing,” she said.
“When a person is convicted under Sections 149 and 436 of the IPC. he/she can be given life imprisonment. Then there should have been life imprisonment in this case also. In that sense, it is a much diluted and weak judgment. We will appeal.”
The other main issue, said Teesta Setalvad, was that the kingpins were let off and several foot soldiers were convicted. Typical of these judgments, the defenceless or those who were not of much consequence took the hit, said an activist in Ahmedabad.
The case was based on the fact that the pogrom pointed to a wider conspiracy and that the violence in Gulberg Society was part of a predetermined attack. Among the kingpins acquitted are Bipin Patel, who is alleged to be a key conspirator, and retired police inspector K.G. Erda, who, posted at the Meghaninagar police station under whose jurisdiction Gulberg Society falls, failed to curtail the violence.
“Just 24 people finally convicted where there were thousands who gheroaed our colony. I saw many more, who are roaming free. This is unfair and not justice,” said Rupa Mody, a resident of Gulberg Society.