Setback for Zakia Jafri

Print edition : January 24, 2014

Zakia Jafri and her son Tanvir Jafri outside the Magistrate's Court in Ahmedabad after the December 26 judgment. Photo: Ajit Solanki/AP

THE following was related by one of the petitioners in the Zakia Jafri case on the 2002 Gujarat riots, which the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court rejected on December 26. “The Magistrate told us to arrive at 11 a.m. We were there before that. The courtroom was crowded. Time passed but there was no sign of him. At 2 p.m., he sent word that he will come at 3 p.m. He finally arrived around 4.15 p.m. And the first thing he tells the lawyer is to submit a request for a hard copy of the judgment. The lawyer had this ready and gave it to him. He signed it and then said, ‘You are free to go to a higher court.’ We were wondering what he meant. Where is the judgment, what is he saying? So we asked him what he meant. Then he told us he had rejected the petition.”

This judgment and the unorthodox way it was delivered have not dissuaded 74-year-old Zakia Jafri or her son Tanvir Jafri. “The next step is to approach a higher court. We are yet to read the judgment and see which court to approach—the Sessions Court or the High Court,” said Tanvir. (The judgment is in Gujarati, and some on Zakia Jafri’s legal team are from Delhi. Hence the need for a translation into English.)

Zakia Jafri’s petition sought to prosecute Chief Minister Narendra Modi for criminal negligence and complicity in the 2002 riots. She contended that there was a larger conspiracy that had fuelled the riots, which left more than 2,000 people dead. Most of the victims were Muslims. Zakia Jafri lost her husband, Ehsan Jafri, a Congress MP, when a mob set fire to Gulberg Society, the upper middle-class locality where they lived, killing 68 people.

The magistrate, B.J. Ganatra, ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Modi and 59 others including politicians, police personnel and bureaucrats. He also rejected the theory that the burning of kar sevaks in the train at Godhra station was planned by the authorities. The magistrate concluded that the administration had called the Army out in time to control the riots and that Modi had made appeals for peace. The court accepted the Supreme Court-constituted Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) final report submitted to it in February 2012, which sought closure of the probe as it found no evidence against Modi. In short, the charges of conspiracy, abetment, incitement of communal hatred and dereliction of duty by Modi were dismissed by this court. The court also rejected the testimony of Indian Police Service officers R.B. Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt as “not trustworthy”.

The history of this case goes back to 2006 when Zakia Jafri decided to file a first information report (FIR) against 62 people, including Modi, who she believed were responsible for the riots. The police refused to file the FIR; she then moved the Gujarat High Court, but it rejected her plea. Jafri approached the Supreme Court, which appointed the SIT headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan. The SIT carried out investigations, even interrogated Modi, and came out with a report.

In the normal course of procedure, the SIT should have given its report to the police for them to conduct an investigation on the allegations, but the SIT said there was nothing to investigate and suggested the closing of the case. (The SIT did not give the Jafris any documents on the basis of which they could use to file a reply. They had to approach the Supreme Court to get these.) The SIT, on the direction of the Supreme Court, submitted its final report to the magistrate’s court and this court was asked to decide whether a trial should be started or whether the matter should be closed. This was the context of the December 26 judgment.

The case is no doubt a complex one. The Jafris waited until 2006 to file their case because they were waiting for the Nanavati-Shah Commission (set up by the State government) to complete its work of investigating the cause and aftermath of the riots. R.B. Sreekumar had also been submitting documents for this. Tanvir Jafri said, “We waited for the Commission to call as many people as they thought fit… for them to gather as much information.”

Those who feel the Jafris have no case against Modi ridicule the conspiracy theory, but Tanvir Jafri explained it bringing out the horror of 2002. “Gulberg Society is in the heart of the city . You cannot say it is in the middle of nowhere and so the atrocities that happened there were not seen by the police. The mob started gathering at 8 a.m. on February 28, 2002. They were there till 7 p.m. No police arrived. If it had been a spontaneous act of killing then it would have been over fast—they would have attacked and gone but to stay there the whole day and kill women, children, old people…. The Police Commissioner’s office is just 2 km away. Would he not have known what was happening? This is why we said it was planned.”

The 450-page judgment is yet to be made available, but the Citizens for Justice and Peace, which is assisting Zakia Jafri, issued a press release saying, “…the detailed construction of criminal conspiracy and abetments presented before the Magistrate’s Court on legal and factual grounds was completely ignored by the court despite substantive evidence from the investigation papers. Counsel for the complainant, relying on statements recorded by the SIT, documentary and other evidence existing on the record of the trial court, had argued, in detailed oral arguments presented to the court, between June and September 2013, that though the law requires establishment of only a prima facie case of serious suspicion for framing charges against Modi and other accused in offences of a cognisable nature, in fact, there exists more than ample evidence, which is not only sufficient for framing charges but also for proceeding with the trial and for convicting Modi and other accused on charges of conspiracy and abetment for committing murder, arson and brutal massacre throughout Gujarat.”

This “ample evidence” is what the Jafris believe will get them justice. After the magisterial court rejected Jafri’s petition, Modi tweeted about truth triumphing. Jafri will be taking her case to a higher court where, perhaps, she will have the luxury of turning Modi’s tweet into her reality.

Lyla Bavadam

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