Gujarat Carnage: Human Rights Defenders as Culprits

Teesta Sreekumar Bhat

The Supreme Court in its judgment the case of Zakia Jafri vs. State of Gujarat dismissed the petition filed by Zakia Jafri. Zakia Jafri had called for an investigation into the conspiracy to hatch the events which resulted in the massive carnage in Gujarat following the Godhra train burning on the morning of 27th February 2002. While dismissing this Supreme Court also went on to put the blame on the human rights defender, Teesta Setalvad and few state officials (R.B. Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt) for creating sensation and making baseless false revelations. Judgment was scathing against these state officials and particularly against Teesta Setalvad. She and many others had taken up the cases for getting justice to the victims of the violence.

Following this, in an Interview Mr. Amit Shah, the home minister blamed these officials and Teesta Setalvad. Immediately in the aftermath of the judgment police officials wasted no time in detain Teesta Setalvad, who was also manhandled, arrested the retired DIG of Gujarat R B Shrikumar and put fresh charges against Sanjiv Bhatt, the police official, who is already in jail.

Just to recall Gujarat violence was orchestrated in the aftermath of burning of S6 coach of Sabarmati Express. In this ghastly tragedy 58 Kar Sevaks, (Ram Sevaks) died in a tragic manner. The then CM of Gujarat Narendra Modi blamed it on terrorism-local Muslims in collusion with ISI and international terrorism. It was propagated that Muslims poured the inflammable material from outside and burnt the coach. Haji Umarji was named as the chief conspirator and close 60 others were arrested. Later after long trials Haji Umarji was exonerated as there was no proof against him. The Gujarat Forensic Laboratory pointed out the inflammable material cannot be poured from outside. Bannerjee Commission report on the Godhra train fire, corroborated by independent expert analysis, disproved the “conspiracy” theory hatched by Hindutva forces to rationalize the terrible pogrom of Muslims that followed.

The charred bodies were taken in a procession to Ahmadabad. P.C. Pandey while deposing in front of Nanavati Commission did state that that the decision to transport the bodies to Ahmadabad was taken at the top level. During the violence the rioters were equipped with the lists of Muslim households and establishments. Even before the pogrom it was being propagated that Gujarat is the ‘Laboratory of Hindu Rashtra’.

While the army was called on same day, it could not get into action as Lt General Zameeruddin Shah kept waiting for support from the state Government. The 3,000 troops that had landed at the Ahmadabad airfield at 7 am on March 1 had to wait for a day before the Gujarat administration provided the transport – during which period hundreds of people were killed.

During this carnage the likes of Maya Kodnani, who later became Cabinet minister in Modi cabinet, was playing a role for which she was given life imprisonment. Currently she is out on bail. Babu Bajarangi in his bravado stated in a sting operation by Ashish Khetan of Tehelka that they have been given three days time and he has to play ‘one day match’ and that he was feeling like Maharana Pratap while doing the killings.

Ashsish Khetan in his book, (Undercover) unravels the world of Babu Bajrangi, the prime accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre, in which over a hundred Muslims perished. Bajrangi concedes that the state’s leadership had a firm grip on the riots. He is blasé about arranging 23 revolvers bang in the middle of the riots. His associates reveled the fact that the police is on their side while rioting. He also asserted that he had only two enemies, Muslims, and Christians.

Supreme Court had earlier reprimanded the state Government by stating that it did not undertake necessary steps to protect the innocent citizens, children and others. While discussing the Best Bakery case, it had said: “The modern day Neroes were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected.” We also recall the plight of Bilkis Bano, who was raped and struggled for seeking justice.

All these harrowing incidents led to the ghettotization of Muslim community and Juhapura became the sort of refuge for Muslims. It is same Juhapura where, earlier in a relief camp, with abysmal facilities for the residents, the then Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited and reminded Modi of his Raj Dharma. Modi true to his ideology shot back that it is precisely what he is doing.

The Gujarat carnage gave a big spring board for Modi to launch the Hindu Rashtra campaign. Modi associates, from VHP like Ashok Singhal started asserting that now Hindus are not going to take it lying down. Many from this politics started using ‘Gujarat will be repeated’ as a threat.

This harrowing chapter of violence changed the equations of major religions communities for the worse. Now this is probably for the first time that the Court has passed such comments on those who have been fighting for the justice for the victims of violence. The state-police has been overactive to apprehend Teesta Setalvad and R B Shrikumaar. There is an all-round condemnation of this highhanded police action. The human rights groups are petitioning and demonstrations are in place against this unwarranted act of the police. Amnesty international correctly pointed out, “Detention of prominent human rights activist @TeestaSetalvad by the Indian authorities is a direct reprisal against those who dare to question their human rights record. It sends a chilling message to the civil society & further shrinks the space for dissent in the country,” “Targeting human rights activists for their legitimate human rights work is unacceptable. The Indian authorities must immediately release @TeestaSetalvad, and end the persecution of Indian civil society and human rights defenders,” it added.

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur for HRD, was also forthright in her tweet, “Deeply concerned about Teesta Setalvad being detained by Anti Terrorism Squad of Gujarat Police. Teesta is a strong voice against Hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by Indian state.”

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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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