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Fear Factor In Gujarat

By Farzana Versey

30 April, 2011

If it were not so tragic, the story of the Gujarat riots might have qualified for an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Witnesses are either coming out of the woodwork or turning hostile. Every accusation is termite-like eating into the riots case.

Recently, IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt testified against chief minister Narendra Modi’s role when he alleged that he was there at a late-night meeting on February 27, 2002, when the CM gave instructions to let Hindus “vent out their anger” and for Muslims to be “taught a lesson” after the Godhra train burning. His words were not new, but because of his position it did cause a stir. Besides, there were questions about the veracity of his claim. They said he was not present at the meeting. And there is also the question as to why the Special Investigative Team (SIT) did not call him for questioning. This was his position. One might ask why he did not proffer such information through other channels. It is likely that he would have lost his job or been transferred, which he was. Is he safe now?

According to a press conference held today, April 30, he has said:

“I can tell the Nanavati Commission that (about what he has said in the affidavit) and much more because I was privy to much more. When I approached the Supreme Court with an affidavit, I submitted to the honourable court that I know much more which I can reveal to the court when I am called upon to do so. If this commission is interested in finding out the truth and if I am given an opportunity to speak out the truth, then I can come out with all the facts that I know and can recollect at this point of time.”

He asked for security and got it. Now, some reports say that as per a notice from the DGP’s office he had to return the vehicles and ammunition. If the government is clean about its intentions, then does it have to worry about what an IPS officer who was not around, as they claim, has to say?

What do all these twists reveal besides delaying the process of justice to suit different stories at varied intervals and the fact that one needs an “opportunity to reveal the truth”?

Yasmeenbano Shaikh is the latest. She is a key witness in the Best Bakery case and earlier this week has moved the Mumbai high court against activist Teesta Setalvad who she contends misguided her. It is important to note that she had already written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court on June 17, 2010. Her petition states:

“Yasmeen gave false deposition against the accused and identified them falsely at the behest and advice of Teesta Setalvad only in the false hope that she (Teesta) would help her financially…Yasmeen was obsessed with the idea of getting money from Teesta and hence she did not think much about the repercussions of her false deposition against innocent persons. She is however repenting now.”

The Best Bakery which was torched in the 2002 riots was owned by her father-in-law; her husband was injured and later died due to illness. She was witness to the carnage. Therefore, while she now says she is being manipulated for “ulterior motives”, will she deny that the bakery was burned down and people died? Does she know who did it, if she says that her testimony is false and innocents were implicated because of it? If she is expressing concern for the nine people who have been given a life sentence, then does she have similar feelings for the families of the 14 people who died in that fire?

Her letter was also sent to the Chief Justice of India, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and the Director General of Police, Gujarat. Why was there silence for 10 months if there was a good case to be followed? The DGP would have jumped at such an opportunity.

Is it her personal trauma that is making her do this – she lost her house to her husband’s second wife and had to live with her mother? Is there a political machinery using her and that could include the politics of activism? As she said about her time in Mumbai:

“Rais Khan (who has since also accused Teesta) and Teesta Setalvad kept strict observation on the flat in which we were residing, we were not able to go out and no one was allowed to meet us. Neither were we having mobile nor were we allowed to talk to anybody, even if we requested. We were not permitted to open the window of the room. Dhyansingh or sometimes Pradip, working in the office of Teesta Setalvad, used to stay for 24 hours there. They used to fulfill our requirements as well as keeping watch on us.”

After all this, why did she still go along? She says she was being tutored regarding what to say in the court by the activist as well as public prosecutor Manjula Rao. Is this not standard legal procedure where the lawyer advises regarding how the case should be dealt with?

One has to be certain as to how a woman who says she signed papers she had no knowledge of can now write letters to the powerful and mighty. She has made some very serious allegations:

“I was removed from the house the very next day of the pronouncement of judgement. I came to know that in the name of Best Bakery Case and for arranging deposition of persons like us, Teesta has collected lakhs of rupees and nothing was given to us.”

How does she know about the existence of this money, where it has come from and for what? Is it from the Gujarat government as compensation? Is it from human rights organisations? Is it from philanthropic institutes? Is it from well-wishers? Is it from outside agencies? Had she got a piece of the pie would she have continued to keep quiet and then what would have happened to her guilt and sorrow? Has no one told her that only one person’s deposition cannot result in such a huge sentence for the accused?

Having said this, it is difficult to ensure that victims are not used. The cases have been dragging on precisely because a closure would shut shop for many. The Gujarat riots were an intensive experiment at several levels. If Yasmeen could be lured by the activist lobby, then she can just as easily be lured by the political lobby. If she was kept under detention then her open protest could put her in further discomfort, unless she is being protected. She ought to know that legal proceedings can be instituted against her for false deposition, so what makes her unafraid? Is she just another face of Gujarat’s economic ‘miracle’? Or the ugly side of samaritanism?

Is justice about how many versions we have of it? It is important to not make this into a personality issue. No one can get away with any kind of abuse by using their power and position. If there are accusations, then they should be verified and the people made answerable. This should not in any way derail the cases against the role of the government officials.

Part of the problem with the Gujarat riots case is not only the strong establishment lobby but the several human rights organisations that jumped into the fray. There have been ego clashes and questions are naturally raised regarding the positions they take. It is, however, unfair that it becomes a battle against “pseudo secularism”. This is a sneaky modus operandi that may get some applause but does not solve the problem.

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/



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