Thursday, March 15, 2007

SURVIVORS SPEAK: AN EXPRESSION IN REMEMBRANCE

Thursday, March 1st 2007 - 11.00 am to 4.00 pm.
Heerak Mahotsav Hall, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad 380 014
February 2002 - March 2007


Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) & Communalism Combat, Mumbai

Victim survivors of over 2,500 persons who were brutally slaughtered and communities of at least 25,000 persons whose homes and properties were destroyed assembled at Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad. They spoke of their struggle for a life of acknowledgement and dignity under a hostile administration for five years. Survivors who have stood firm in their struggle for truth and justice cannot enter their homes in Ode, Anand district, Shaikh Mohalla, Sardarpura, Gulbarg Society, Naroda Gaon and Patiya.

Eighty four Godhra accused have been jailed under POTA for four years without bail whereas accused in other mass carnage cases roam their respective areas. The State of Gujarat calls them 'absconding' before the court, and some like Babu Bajrangi actually govern Gujarat State! Properties of Godhra accused have been attached by the State, but properties of the post Godhra carnage accused have been left untouched!

The expression showcased the long and demanding struggle for Justice --where to date witnesses are being intimidated and pressured into turning hostile-- and demand that the austere and distant ears of India's courts remain alive for the quick deliverance of justice.

The State has made a farce of awarding Compensation--by lying on oath before different fora about amounts doled out to families. Extensive data on compensation was released. Over 9,000 Gujarati citizens live like refugees in their own State, denied basic civil and political rights --access to BPL cards, drinking water access to schools and even the political right to vote.

Five Years of Low Intensity Terror

Since 2002 when the mass carnage took place in Gujarat that was in fact a State sponsored genocide, victim survivors live as destitute refugees in their own land.

The deep rooted State complicity in the carnage of citizens in 2002 and the blatant efforts to shield its perpetrators have been exposed. Various writ petitions, trials and civil suits have attempted to bring this out. Apart from the issue of punishing the guilty in the major massacres, the issue of fair compensation / reparation by the State is also pending before the Gujarat High Court {Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) are the petitioners}.

Following the detailed scheme worked out in this petition, the Central Government announced a compensation package of Rs 7 lakh each for the deceased but no details have been formulated. There is no mention of a better scheme for destroyed homes and property. This expression of survivors urges and demands that the central Government immediately activate the scheme not just with related to lives lost but homes destroyed, properties burnt and vandalized and for victims of sexual violence. Rs 50,000 per home destroyed was a paltry scheme in itself but according to detailed research done by CJP even this amount has not been paid to over 80 per cent of the survivors. The scheme should be operationalized along with citizens organizations working with victims and not through the State Government.

Gujarat a Government’s Shameful Conduct

Severe social and economic boycott, ghettoization are faced by the minority community today. Issues of admission of children to schools so that there is a mixed classroom, jobs where communities intermingle is also one that needs to be examined carefully. Police officers who stood by the Indian Constitution are isolated by the State and those who failed to protect life and property are the ones promoted and patronized.

Besides this, all the victim survivors of the Gulbarg Society massacre have filed civil suits of compensation against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Zakia Jaffri, widow of the late former parliamentarian, Ahsan Jaffri, has filed an FIR (First Information Report) under Section 154 of the CrPC against Modi and 67 others (including present and former ministers and IPS and IAS officials) alleging criminal conspiracy at the highest level.

Mass Carnage Cases: On September 1, 2003 when the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) approached the Supreme Court demanding retrial and transfer in the Best Bakery case, the statutory body also filed a transfer petition asking for reinvestigation and transfer of major carnage cases, including the Godhra train torching case, the Gulbarg Society and the Naroda Patiya incidents. NHRC’s transfer petition was a logical corollary to its own fact-finding report on the Gujarat killings (May-July 2002). The report had strongly recommended transfer of investigation and setting up of special courts for the trial of the mass carnage cases.

CJP intervened in the case and filed over 65 affidavits for victim survivors of these massacres. It pleaded that the Naroda Gaon, Ode and Sardarpura massacres also needed to be reinvestigated and transferred for trial as they too had figured in the NHRC’s 2002 report. Following CJP’s arguments, on November 21, 2003 the Supreme Court stayed the Godhra, Gulbarg, Naroda Gaon, Patiya, Ode and Sardarpura trials. Since then, detailed hearings have taken place during which CJP placed voluminous details on record.

After an inordinate delay – due largely to the turnaround of witness Zahira Sheikh in November 2004 — the Supreme Court, on July 11, 2006, resumed hearing the matter. Since the matter has been heard and adjourned half a dozen times and now, hopefully comes up for hearing on March 20, 2007. The meeting of the survivors on March 1 will sign an appeal for the quick deliverance of justice.

State Complicity:

Complicity at the highest level in the appointment of Public Prosecutors (PPs) by the State of Gujarat was thoroughly exposed in the Best Bakery case. Lawyers who had appeared for the accused were appointed as Public Prosecutors, exposing a transparent conflict of interest. Worse, many who were appointed were clearly linked, ideologically and organizationally, with the VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal, the very outfits that had proudly claimed credit for the post-Godhra violence.

Even in the Supreme Court, the Gujarat Government appointed Vinod D. Gajjar, as its lawyer. Gajjar holds a brief for 23 accused in the Gulbarg Society (Meghaninagar) massacre.

Double Standards of the Gujarat Government

Even after November 21, 2003 when the Supreme Court stayed the trials, the Gujarat Government has persisted with its double standards evident in the way it has pursued investigations in the Godhra train fire incident and in the post-Godhra massacres. In the former case, the Gujarat administration and police have aggressively persisted with their faulty and mala fide investigations. In sharp contrast, despite numerous and repeated complaints by victim survivors, the police doggedly refused to take any corrective action as regards investigation in the Gulbarg, Sardarpura, Ode, Naroda Gaon and Patiya massacres. All this is now on record before the Supreme Court.

Despite three rigorous years in court, the Modi Government is completely silent on why it did not undertake any further investigation following applications for reinvestigation made by witnesses. It is similarly silent on arresting those actually named as accused. They are, in effect, allowing those accused named to go scot-free without even a minimum investigation.

Babu Bajrangi, accused no 1 in Naroda Patiya roams free on bail and decides whether “ Parzania ”can be screened there or not. Who rules Gujarat? Lawless groups protected by Shri Modi ? Whither the Constitution of India? Whither the rule of law?

Pathetic Rehabilitation

Over 10,00 victims of the mass carnage of 2002 live in pathetic hovels, without sanitation and water in various locales in Gujarat. The nation needs to pay attention to these internally displaced persons and make sure that at these locations proper civic facilities are provided and also that sound and aggressive livelihood schemes are conceived for the refugees. Some of these are:

Ahmedabad (Rehabilitation Camps)



Islamic Relief Committee (IRC)- Houses rehabilitated 2002

1. Allama Ali Takiya 60 houses

2. Khanwadi Mitthan Shahid 156 houses

3. Ekta Nagar Vatwa 108 houses

4. Naroda Pattiya 125 houses

5. Ekta Complex Juhapura 37 houses

6. Javed Park Juhapura 14 houses

7. Millat Colony Gupta Nagar 317 houses

8. Mohalatwad Paldi 22 houses

9. Viramgam 82 houses

10. Mandal 4 houses

11. IRCG colony Asim Park 35 houses



Gujarat Sarvojanik Relief Committee

1. Sidhikabad Juhapura 180 houses

2. Vandvad (Vatwa) 84 houses

3. Satnagar Nr. Ambica Mill Kakarakia 240 houses

4. Parmandant Patel ki chawl 79 houses

5. Arsh Colony (Vatwa) 50 houses

6. Viramgam 112 houses



Gandhinagar District

1. Adalaj 11 houses

2. Nardipur 17 houses

3. Por 12 houses



Mehsana District Taluka Kadi Rehab Camps

1. Satnagar (Taluja Vijapur) 20 houses

1. Nandasan 35 houses

2. Abolgaon 82 houses 49 houses



Vadodara District

1. Halol 50 houses



Kheda District

1. Shewala 14 houses



Panchmahal District

1. Shahra 50 houses

2. Della 60 houses



Sabarkantha District

1. Vadali 61 houses

2. Modasa 68 houses

3. Tajpur Camp (Prantij) 21 houses

4. Chhanapur 15 houses

5. Dolapur (Malpur) 22 houses)

6. Himmatnagar 25houses



Panchmahal District

1. Pandharwada (Khanpur) 100 houses

2. Vanjiakhunt (Santrampur) 5 houses

3. Eral and Malav (Kalol) 34 houses

4. Halol 53 houses



Dahod District

1. Sanjeli (Jhalod) 18 houses

2. Sukhsar (Fatepura) 39 houses

3. Piplod (Devgadhbaria) 3 houses



Anand District

1. Ode 25 houses



Kheda District

1. Gothaj (Kapadvanj) 13 houses

2. Kheda Anand Relief Committee build 34 houses in Anand

3. Anjumanetamiremillat build 20 houses

4. Majlisedavatwatulhouqe build 20 houses



As far as rehabilitation is concerned, the fact is that survivors and eyewitnesses of the Sardarpura massacre cannot return to Shaikh Mohalla in their native village and are still living as refugees at Satnagar in a neighbouring district. Survivors of the Gulbarg massacre cannot return to their middle class housing colony. Survivors of the Ode massacre cannot return to their village. Well over four years after the carnage, only a few victim survivors of Naroda Gaon and Patiya have returned to their locality. Even after Supreme Court orders have been issued, the security provided to witnesses is inadequate and threats continue.

And while the property of those accused in the Godhra massacre has been attached by the authorities, the property of those granted anticipatory bail in the post-Godhra carnages has not been attached.

Intimidation of Witnesses : Police officers continue to intimidate witnesses who are struggling for justice.

No protection to witnesses : Though cluster protection was ordered by the Supreme Court for eye witnesses and other witnesses , the State’s SRP continues to make a mockery of protection. It is as if one section of Gujarat’s citizens are not citizens at all.

Clubbing of FIRs, Subverting of Investigations : Be it Naroda Gaon or Patiya, Gulbarg Society massacre, Sardarpura or Ode, the deliberate designs of the police in clubbing of FIRs (dropping names of accused), courts in granting anticipatory bail and bail, and police in not conducting investigations properly is a sordid reality

The Pandharwada mass graves scandal highlighted the attitude of the State of Gujarat on the question of missing persons bodies. For the State of Gujarat these are not human beings whose lives have been lost but mere remains to be disposed of in a crude manner. Of 428 missing persons, by the State’s own admissions, 213 are still missing. Modi’s Government is not interested in expressing remorse or regret. It is interested in slapping cases on victim survivors and human rights defenders and hounding them.

The entire motive and attitude of the State of Gujarat has been to tell untruths about the Godhra incident, deny the role of the CM downwards in planning and executing the State sponsored genocide and protect the hoodlums responsible for mass rape and killing. The depositions and affidavits of IPS officers Rahul Sharma (today SP in the CBI) and RB Sreekumar, Additional Director General, State of Gujarat are testimony to the designs of the State of Gujarat’s chief functionaries in protecting the guilty and even telling untruths before the court.

Internal Displacement : A detailed report, ‘Gujarat –Five Years Later’ is currently being compiled by Communalism Combat. Our preliminary investigations reveal that on a rough estimate about 61,000 persons continue to be internally displaced within the State. Included among them are key witnesses of the major massacres, who even today cannot go back to their villages or localities simply because they have chosen to fight for justice. Many are both victims of the massacre and key eye-witnesses.

The large majority of the internally displaced were small minority groups scattered across many of Gujarat’s 18,000 villages. They have had to surrender their homes and petty landholdings in return for a life of penury-struck refugees. This is the stark and shameful reality of Gujarat, where even the political Opposition has stopped addressing issues arising out of a State-sponsored pogrom and where the perpetrators continue in seats of power and influence.

Eye-witnesses who are also victims include survivors of the Gulbarg massacre (February 28, 2002) where 68 persons were slaughtered including former MP Ahsan Jaffri and 10-15 girls and women subjected to brutal sexual violence; Naroda Gaon and Patiya (February 28, 2002) where over 120 persons were similarly ravaged while a complicit police and elected representatives watched and led mobs respectively; Sardarpura (March 1-3, 2002) where 33 persons were brutally killed in one incident while 14 were burnt alive in the second); and the Ode killings in Anand district (March 1-3, 2002) in which a total of 27 persons were killed. All of them continue to suffer and sacrifice for their decision to struggle for justice. Many eye-witnesses, like a key witness from Naroda Gaon and his family members, have been penalised three or four times with false criminal cases being slapped against them. The attempt is clearly to intimidate all those who stand for the struggle for justice. Recent reports highlighting attempts to target citizens and human rights defenders who support the struggle only underline the State of affairs in Gujarat today.

If there is one thing that the onerous struggle for justice has shown, it is this: For justice to be finally ensured at least in case of the major incidents of carnage let alone the hundreds of crimes that took place in Gujarat in 2002, the struggle for justice needs strong support from State agencies. But in reality, three years after the horrors in which they lost their near and dear ones, key witnesses of the major incidents of violence cannot even step into their villages or localities simply because they have chosen the path of justice.

Kidiad and Pandharwada Massacres : Kidiad and Pandharwada Massacres: The Kidiad massacre (where 61 persons were burnt alive in two tempos at Limbadiya Chowki in Sabarkantha district), and Pandharwada killings (where over 45 persons were massacred in two separate incidents in a village in Panchmahal district) on March 1 and 2, 2002, saw acquittals with the first six months. CJP has filed an SLP in the Kidiad massacre case which is pending before the Supreme Court.

The Pandharwada mass graves case has emerged as the latest in the long list of scandals related to the Gujarat genocide. One of the major instances of carnage took place in the village of Pandharwada in Panchmahals district where over 70 persons were killed on March 1-2, 2002. For over two years the families of those killed had been hunting for the remains of their lost ones, with no help from the police. On December 27, 2005, in the fourth such search off the ravines of the Paanam river near Lunawada village, in the presence of CJP's field coordinator, Rais Khan, remains of what appears to have been 21 bodies from this massacre were found.



Prompt action by CJP led the Gujarat High Court to pass an order giving the CBI jurisdiction to supervise the DNA sampling of the remains since the survivors had lost all faith in the Gujarat police. A stung Gujarat State retaliated by filing an FIR against both the victims’ kin and CJP members. Anticipatory bail had again to be sought. We continue to battle it out in the Gujarat High Court as we have unearthed records to show that it was not a burial, simply a callous dumping of bodies (unlike what the State makes out). The Gujarat police and administration have to explain why the victims of violence were denied a dignified burial inside the kabrastan (cemetry) in Lunawada. They also need to explain why they turned a deaf ear to repeated pleas by the kin of the deceased to help them locate their ‘missing’ ones.

Radhanpur Case : This matter that involves a sitting MLA of the ruling party, Shankarsingh Choudhary in Radhanpur is also a story of State complicity in protecting the guilty. The matter I subject to a petition for CBI investigation in the Gujarat HC and also an SLP in the Supreme Court.

Vadodara Violence- 2005 : A 38 year old young man, Rafik Abdul Ghani Vohra, set upon by a mob that was led by Ashok Thakur and other well known VHP activists and burnt to death in his car, at Ajwa Road, while he was returning from Gujarat refineries, late night on Tuesday.

The mob (total mob strength was over 1,000) had been gathering at Ajwa Road, unstopped by the police, during curfew, for two hours or so before the attack took place. Despite repeated calls by his family and neighbours to the police control and Commissioner of Police, a callous administration did not respond. Some family members of the dead boy have told the national media and television channels that when they did connect with the police, they were told ‘to go to Pakistan.’

Local social activists have experienced that the response from the Commissioner of Police [CP] Vadodara, Deepak Swaroop, the chief minister’s office and the State home secretary’s office from May 1, 2002 onwards as worse than even 2002. The CP Vadodara simply kept disconnecting his mobile according to agitated residents and social activists who made over 200 calls while the mob was building up. This implies clearly that but for the pressure exercised by the Government at the centre, the Gujarat State, its executive and its administration would not have been compelled to act immediately, without fear or favour.

The trouble began in Vadodara on May 1, with the demolition launched by the Vadodara municipal administration, aided by the police, in violation of the ‘compromise’ formula worked between the administration and minorities that two and a half feet of the shrine were to be ‘sacrificed’ for ‘development.’. The durgah in question is the Durgah Hazrat Rashiuddin, a target of communal forces since 1969. At least 385 years old, it’s existence is recorded in the first city survey carried out by Sayaji Rao Maharaj in 1912.

On the morning of May 1, the police and corporation demolished the shrine and by afternoon in a swift military-like action had even paved a road over it. Ghastly memories of 2002 were invoked when over 270 minority shrines had been devastated and destroyed in just the first 6 days of post-Godhra premeditated violence, including the Wali Dakhani’s mazhar just outside the Commissioner of Police’s office at Shahi Baug in Ahmedabad on March 1, 2002. Ustad Faiz Khan’s tomb in Vadodara also had it’s fa├žade destroyed then. All signs of the remains of Wali Dakhani’s tomb in Ahmedabad had been removed by the wee hours of the next morning, again by politicians aided by the administration -- a tar road was paved over the spot. Four years later, in Vadodara, BJP leaders who are also VHP and Bajrang Dal office bearers, assisted the administration in paving a road over the destroyed shrine. No distinction points if citizens discern a continuing pattern.

Durgahs, on the mazhars [graves] of Sufi saints are visited across the subcontinent by worshippers belong to different communities and the mujawar (caretaker) are often Hindu, the colourful and different forms of worship being a natural way that men and women of different communities worship, intermingle, live. Durgahs, are and have been for decades a threat to the narrow sectarian worldview of Hindu communalists (In this, the fast growing Muslim communal worldview also dislikes durgahs because they affect the ‘purity’ of Islam’!).

Police Fires to Kill –Kabrastan related violence : In June and August 2006 in separate incidents, the State’s desire in Gujarat to inflame minority sentiments by trying to capture graveyard lands burst into violence as citizens resisted. Tragically however 3 persons were killed in Radhanpur. The CJP wrote memoranda to the NHRC and other authorities that is annexed hereto as Annexure 2.

Curtailing the Shah Nanavati Commission : Though the proceedings of the Nanavati Shah Commission continue, it’s functioning has been seriously curtailed because of non cooperation from the Gujarat Government. Except for a few senior officers who have both filed affidavits and deposed before the commission, the present chief secretary is recorded to have ‘advised’ top policemen and administrators ‘not’ to depose and thereby in fact violate section 6 of the Commission of Inquiry act and section 186 of the IPC that enjoins on every public servant to perform his public duty. A unique example of a State Government subverting a quasi judicial effort, appointed in the public interest, to get to the root of the carnage of 2002.

The State of affairs in Gujarat five years down, given the same dispensation in power-- as this tracking of the justice process shows—is a far cry from constitutional governance. For victim survivors, rights groups and minority groups the struggle against the shameful breakdown of Constitutional machinery in Gujarat has been contained to a rigorous and hotly contested legal battle.

Conclusion

Over 220 persons are officially, by Gujarat State Government records recognized as missing after the 2002 carnage in which 2,500 persons belonging to one community were massacred. Rights groups place the figure of missing persons closer to 500.

The attitude of the Gujarat State headed by chief minister Narendra Modi who was re-elected by 51 per cent of the Gujarati electorate in December 2002, nine months after masterminding the pogrom, has been understood and absorbed nationwide. What escapes public attention is the realization that even four years later there is absolutely no remorse or regret for what had been orchestrated in February/March-May 2002. If Modi is relatively silent today, it is only because of the legal battles in which his State is embroiled despite his best efforts.

At the ground level his brigands carry on unashamed. At Desar village of Vadodara district on April 10, 2005, as hundreds of villagers watched in the presence of BJP MP Jayaben Thakkar, local MLA Upendrasinh Gohil and VHP leaders, two Swaminarayan sadhus unveiled the bust of Vakhatsinh Ramansinh Parmar. The inscription on the marble plaque under the bust read: "This memorial is to honour Ram Sevak Vakhatsinh Ramansinh Parmar who laid down his life in the attacks in retaliation to the killing of 58 karsevaks on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002. Parmar was killed in police firing on March 1, 2002, third Friday, Vikram Samvat, 2058". Parmar was, according to police records, part of a mob that torched Muslim properties and attacked the police when the police was trying to save properties from being torched. He was named as an accused in the case. This is the first time that a riot accused has been publicly felicitated in Gujarat albeit posthumously. The function was organized by the VHP. The local MLA and MP did not find anything wrong in erecting a memorial for a mob leader in a village where Muslims form 30 per cent of the population. "This is a fitting tribute to the youth for his sacrifices for the cause of Hindutva," Thakkar told The Deccan Herald. Asked about the incident, minister of State for Home Amit Shah said: "One is always innocent till he is convicted."

An apt illustration of the perversion of values within the political class in Gujarat.

Political campaign

If justice is to prevail, a necessary condition for this must be created through the dismissal of the Modi Government under Article 356 of the Constitution, say constitutional experts like Shanti Bhushan.

There is legitimate apprehension among many about the use of Article 356, lest it set a precedent for the Centre to get rid of Governments in Opposition-ruled States. But the Gujarat case is an exceptional one in so much as the State Government has been seriously implicated by the NHRC and even the Supreme Court, in what are perhaps the most inhuman, horrendous and unconstitutional acts in the history of post-Independence India. In the past few months, courageous Statements by serving police officers have echoed the outrage earlier expressed by these apex institutions and hundreds of groups and individuals. Statements by serving policemen that have been made public clearly show that orders were issued by none less than the present chief minister Narendra Modi that minorities who resist or protest be exterminated. Put together, the imposition of Article 356 in Gujarat is warranted not only on grounds of humanity and constitutional propriety, but also for the maintenance of the country’s unity, integrity and secular fabric.


Citizens for Justice and Peace and Communalism Combat,Mumbai