People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 30

July 23, 2006

What Ails Gujarat? – II


Teesta Setalvad 


FEBRUARY 21, 2006: The state government in its rejoinder affidavit indulges in unnecessary falsehoods stating that victim survivor Ameenabehn Rasool, who is the main petitioner, was not aware of the facts contained in the affidavit. The state of Gujarat has made a false statement saying that the victim Maqsoodabibi had refused to exhume the dead body. To prove their case, the petitioners (in their rejoinder to rejoinder affidavits filed in the first week of March 2006) have annexed affidavits of Maqsoodabibi and her mother-in-law namely Umravbibi that contain details of the dead body of Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Sheikh.


March 2, 2006: Maqsuda Yusuf Shaikh, widow of Yusufbhai files as affidavit in the main Pandharwada matter (Special Criminal Appln 1875/2005) pointing out shocking and grave efforts by the Gujarat police to doctor records and in fact create false evidence. This justifies the petitioners’ claim that the Gujarat state police simply cannot be trusted to handle an investigation against itself in a fair and impartial manner.


In this affidavit, Maqsuda states that

p She gave applications dated February 1, 2006 and February 6, 2006 to the prant officer, Lunawada, collector, Panchmahal at Godhra, DSP Panchmahal, DSP Lunawada, etc to get the dead body of her husband Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Shaikh. She stated that after following legal procedure, the body may be handed over to CBI for its analysis in the forensic laboratory of Hyderabad and later it should be handed over to her for burying in the local Kabrastan as per Muslim custom

p The dead body of her husband Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Shaikh was not handed over to either her or her mother-in-law either on March 5, 2002 or on any other day by the police. She has not made any thumb impression regarding receipt thereof. She states that the police is trying to make a false case against her and refusing to process her application to exhume the body.
p She states that despite she and her in-laws representing to concerned authorities many times, till date they have not been handed over the dead body of Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai.
p She states that the police claim of handing over the body on March 5, 2002 is absolutely false and an irresponsible statement; if the dead body of her husband Yusufbhai Ahmedbhai Shaikh was handed over to her, then, male members of the community should have cleaned his dead body i.e. should have performed the final bathing rites and then, by wrapping him in the traditional white coffin cloth, and after performing the Namaz of ‘Janaza’, the final prayer, they would have buried him at the family’s Kabrasthan in their own village or in Kabrastan of Pandarwada, which is at a distance of 5 km away from Lunawada. It is very clear that nothing of this sort has happened and the police has no record of its so called version of handing over the body to her. It appears therefore that the police is suppressing the truth. 
p She states that if the police version of handing over the body of her husband on March 5, 2002 was true, why then would her mother-in-law Umravbibi make applications dated March 19, 2002 to the collector, Panchmahal etc. and how did this matter come to be reported in Gujarat Today newspaper dated April 3, 2002.
p This victim survivor also points out that when the police carried out inquest panchnama dated March 5, 2002, she was not called to the site nor was she present. However, her false name and presence has been recorded. No thumb impression or signature of hers can be found on this inquest panchnama. The Police inquest panchnama is said to have been carried out on March 5, 2002 during hours 16.00 to 16.45 and it has also been stated at Serial No. 6 of the police report that the police had spotted the dead body on March 5, 2002 at hours 14.30 and sent it to the medical officer, Pandarwada 


She points that this is an act of obvious falsification of records in terms of her presence and shows that the police has, in fact, not carried out any inquest panchnama. Besides this, if the so-called inquest panchnama was carried out during hours 16.00 to 16.45 on March 5, 2002 then how come the post mortem was performed at hours 16.30 on the same day. It also apparently appears that even the date of receipt of the dead body mentioned in Column No.4 of the post mortem report shows that the date of receipt of the dead body was written as March 6, 2002 and the 6 was changed to 5. She concludes that from the material and facts mentioned above, it is clear that the police or the administration has not handed over the dead body of her husband to her either on March 5, 2002 or on any other day thereafter.


March 2006: Victim survivors and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) file 600 pages of detailed affidavits, contradicting point by point all the claims made by the state government of Gujarat in its affidavits. Ameenabehn Habib Rasool in her Rejoinder to Rejoinder Affidavit filed by respondent, state of Gujarat, states that:


u The dead bodies were buried in the land under Survey No. 69 on the banks of the river ‘Paanam’. 
· Through their own investigations, petitioners learned that the said land is ‘forestland’ as per the 7/12 village form. They have annexed the copy of the village form. This proves that the local administration ought not to have buried the dead bodies without handing over the same to the survivors of the deceased. 
u Ameenabehn Rasool states categorically that it was the victims who learnt about the place where the dead bodies were actually buried, informed the villagers and soon in the presence of the electronic media the skeletons were unearthed. Further, the petitioners state that it was only because of the electronic media’s exposure that the police could not tamper with the skeletons and the local administration was caught on wrong footing especially because the skeletons were found from the forestland. Thus it was wise decision for the victims to avoid the competent authorities under the control of the state government.
u The petitioners state that Respondent No. 2, the CBI, be asked to seize the case diaries and the weekly diaries of the police immediately or they be asked to produce the same forthwith so that the role of the state’s police and the local administration can be properly appreciated. The petitioners further state that the Respondent No. 1, the state government, has been given enough chance to ‘tamper’ with the evidence. 
u The petitioners state that the ‘role’ of the state government in not protecting its citizens and in defending the accused has shown its ugly face in several matters. The non-governmental organisers had to venture and make sincere attempts to wipe off the tears of poor victims. That the Supreme Court while deciding Criminal M P No. 3740-42/2004 in Writ Petition (Cri) No. 109/2003 in the matters of National Human Rights Commission Vs The State Of Gujarat and allied matters had observed that the non-governmental organisations be asked to do the needful for poor victims must be relied upon at the time of the hearing of this writ petition. 


Later the victim survivors asked for a complete transfer of case to CBI. 


April 5, 2006: Gujarat High Court refuses to cancel anticipatory bail. On April 5, 2006 the Gujarat High Court passed a speaking order rejecting the Gujarat state government’s appeal to cancel anticipatory bail granted by the sessions court at Godhra. Though one of the conditions of the High Court order formally allowed the police to apply for remand (an usual practice in all cases) and the victims and Khan remained present at Lunawada court while arguments took place on April 17, 2006, the single-handed vindictiveness of the Gujarat police can be seen in that they obtained non-bailable warrants by misleading the court despite the fact that there were no orders asking these persons to remain present in court on April 18, 2006. 


April 18, 2006: Non-bailable warrants have been issued against Mehboob Rasul Chauhan, Habib Rasul Saiyed, Sikander Abbas Shaikh, Kutubsha Ayubsha Diwan and Gulam Ghani Kharadi who are victim survivors of the ghastly massacre that took place in March 2002. Rais Khan of CJP has also been targeted by issuance of non-bailable warrant. Teesta Setalvad of the CJP is also named in the FIR. This is nothing short of an attempt to browbeat victims who had been searching in vain for the bodies of their lost ones. Application for remand to police custody have been made against all.


Despite the order of the High Court to convert bail into regular bail, the Gujarat police is not only using intimidatory tactics to browbeat victims of a massacre and representatives of organisations supporting the struggle for justice but in fact attempting to influence the investigation itself. In this entire matter, the Gujarat police are the chief culpable party being responsible for the undignified and hasty burials of victims of a mass crime. Today, despite the fact that the matter has been seized of in the Gujarat High Court, the Gujarat police functions with impunity and is trying to subvert the investigation to escape liability for the illegal and unauthorised burial of bodies of victims of a mass crime.


What of other victim survivors who have approached the Supreme Court and due to whose pleas criminal trials have been stayed since November 21, 2002? 


Victims of the Gulberg Society massacre within the city of Ahmedabad where over 70 persons including former member of parliament Ahsan Jaffri were brutally killed, survivors and witnesses of the Naroda Gam and Patiya mass killings, (over 120 massacred) the Sardarpura (33 and 14 persons targeted and killed) and Ode carnages (27 persons killed) all approached the Supreme Court showing deliberate lapses in investigations. The real accused are not named in the chargesheets because of their political and organisational connections. Those accused of mass murder and rape have been granted bail, even anticipatory bail, by courts. Even after the Supreme Court stay order that also ordered CISF protection for all witnesses, each of the survivors of these major crimes are prevented from returning to their original place of residence where these incidents occurred. 


Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, Shaikh mohalla in Sardarpura, the residences of massacred victims in Ode, Anand remain ruins where the survivors cannot return. At Naroda gaon and Ptaiya the only families who have gone back are those who have sworn to stay off the investigation and courts. At the Shaikh mohalla in Sardapura village, some shops have been taken over by influential Patels, while the gritty families who decided on their rightful struggle for justice, lived in hastily constructed homes at Satnagar, some kilometers away. Within Satnagar their livelihood remains a problem as other community peers also regard them with hostility.


Monthly visits by the author of this article to districts in Gujarat leave her being tailed by the Crime Branch of the state police. On the last such occasion in June 2006, cars carrying men of the Crime Branch Anand district tailed her after removing license plates! All these victim survivors live as refugees, in the land of their birth. They also anxiously await their turn before the apex court. 


The message is clear. Choose peace or justice? Not both. The struggle against the shameful breakdown of Constitutional machinery in Gujarat cannot be allowed to be limited to a rigorous and hotly contested legal battle. (Concluded)