Monday, February 28, 2011


Last word on Godhra yet to be heard

Kingshuk Nag 23 February 2011 

I did not believe in 2002 that there was an organised conspiracy that  led to the Godhra train burning and nine years later in 2011 my belief remains the same. Notwithstanding the judgment delivered by the trial court.


Well, it was always not like this. For the first month after the February 27, 2002, carnage, I believed like most others that coach S6 of Sabarmati Express had been deliberately put on fire. But at that time I had not visited Godhra. I went to Godhra at the end of March 2002 and ran into the deputy superintendent of police Bava, who was investigating the case and his boss inspector general of police Agja. Both were at the police post adjacent to the platform of Godhra station when we ran into them. (I say we because with me was our then bureau chief in Vadodara and now editor of Chandigarh edition, Raja Bose). I asked the duo how far they had proceeded in unravelling the conspiracy. The cops said that if there was a conspiracy they were yet to come across any evidence. I could not believe what they were saying but managed to keep a straight face. "If there was no evidence how did the coach get burnt?" I asked. Mr Agja said that he was not sure but added that at any time there were 20-30 vendors on the platform hawking their wares like tea. Most of them carried small-sized gas cylinders with burners with them. In the midst of a fracas that had broken out between the kar sevaks and these vendors things could have turned ugly with some vendors throwing in burning rags inside the train. This could have caused a fire, Agja concluded but emphasized that this was a possibility but not his definitive account of what had happened. I asked the inspector general whether he could be quoted by name on what he had said: "Yes," he said and became emotional and said that he had merely a year and a half of service and at this stage he cared for nothing other than the truth. He looked at Bava and said: "He has only a month left, why should he bothered either?"


Before running the story I checked Agja's story with many top police officers. They agreed with the argument and said that the belief in the top police echelon was also this. Curiously when the story was front-paged in TOI, in all its editions, the reaction was muted. Late in the afternoon, a distressed Agja called me and said: "Nag sahib, yeh kya kar diya apney?"  I said I had checked with him and asked him to cool down. Later in the evening an apologetic public relations officer of the police department called me. "Everyone knows what you wrote is correct, but yet Mr Agja wants us to issue a clarification. You are free to do whatever you want to. When the clarification arrived I found it wishy-washy and threw it into the dustbin. Later I came to know that Narendra Modi had summoned Agja who told him that he had not said anything. This was recounted to me by none other than Mr Modi and when I told him that in fact Agja had said so, the Gujarat chief minister kept quiet. A little later Agja was transferred.


It appeared to me that thereafter there was an effort by the police to quickly fit the conspiracy angle. In their zealousness, the cops started recording all sorts of evidence including that of purported eyewitnesses. One such eyewitness was found to be present at a school where he taught some 25 km away from Godhra! Random arrests were made from Singal Falia, the area located next to the Godhra railway station, whose main inhabitants were Ghanchi Muslims (many of them poor). Ultimately this was to spoil the police case because my belief is that this zealousness to fit evidence to a pre-decided theory, all sorts of dubious evidence was collected. The police investigation at this stage was to influence the future of the case. Thus when a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was put in place to supersede the earlier Gujarat police probe, this went further using information gathered by the previous investigations. The investigating officer (of the rank of DSP) also continued to be the same.


The end result is there for everybody to see: the judge says that there was a conspiracy behind the burning of the train but lets off the main conspirator, Umarji. Well, if you ask me here is where the conspiracy angle is knocked out straight away. Interestingly the case is proven on the testimony of some of the accused who later retracted their statements. Little surprise that the judge upholding the conspiracy angle has let off most of those arraigned before his court of law.


I am aware that many of the readers of this blog post will heap many accusations on me: of being a pseudo-secularist and going out of the way and appeasing the minorities. Of being anti-Hindu and not being sympathetic to the families of all those who perished. My submission to them: Don't treat Godhra like the Ramajanmabhoomi issue as a matter of faith. Truth is often stranger than fiction. It is the merely the trial court that has delivered its judgment. There are two more levels of courts that the verdict will have to pass through. The last word has not been heard on Godhra.

LEST WE FORGET...! by Fr. Cedric Prakash - 28th Feb. 2011




- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*


The sight of garbage trolleys, apparently kept on the premises by municipality workers, is symbolic of the rot that is still on!  The stench from putrid garbage exemplifies this. The undergrowth and the overgrowth seem to throttle the skeletal of a once vibrant housing society.  The atmosphere is, to say the least, heart-wrenching!


Its nine years after 69 persons lost their lives in the Gulberg Housing Society in Chamanpura which is the heart of Eastern Ahmedabad.  Among those who met with a most brutal death here was the former Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jafri.  To many, Jafri Saheb symbolized all that India meant: a devout Muslim whose closest friends belonged to every other religion and community; a politician who epitomized service and integrity; a sensitive human who willingly reached out to those in need at any time; his illustrious career ensured that he rubbed shoulders with the most powerful of the land, yet never losing touch with the simple and ordinary folk of his constituency.  What he chose to do on that fateful February 28th, 2002 will be recorded in the annals of those who sacrificed their lives for a cause.  He telephoned everyone who mattered, to prevent the mob from attacking his people.  In his bravado, he went to the gates of his housing society to plead with the murderous mob, hoping that ultimately good sense and his own importance, would prevail. But nothing mattered to those who were seeking blood - they butchered him, they roasted his remains! A horrific act by any standards, even for a people who could be condemned as 'barbarians'.


Today, several of the victim survivors gathered once again, to share with one another their inexplicable grief.  As one walked in a daze through the burnt-out apartments, the pain is palpable.  At the same time, there is a feeling of hopelessness and despair.  They seek neither revenge nor retribution.  They have lost their loved ones, their homes, their possessions and in fact nine full years of their lives - waiting anxiously that the cause of justice will be served.  


Suraiyaben Anklesaria, the sister-in law of Ehsan Jafri, in tears, remembers the nightmare that gripped their lives forever; for Sairaben Salimbhai, who lost four members of her family, a sense of resignation seems to have enveloped her as she painfully states that there are no more tears left in her eyes; for Rupaben and Darabhai Mody, visiting the place which they once called their home was a painful pilgrimage.  Dara wiped away the grime and soot from a frame of Prophet Zarathushtra, and as he does so, he breaks down with a prayer on his lips. Rupa continues to ask the one question, she has been asking thousands all over; "will my Azhar return?"  The trauma of her only son (who was fourteen years old at that time) leaving her side and disappearing forever when the mobs came to attack them, will haunt this mother always.  She still hopes for that one miracle to happen in her life.


Nine years on and the pain, the trauma of an immense tragedy still weighs heavy on those who suffer. Gulberg Society is but one incident of a carnage that engulfed Ahmedabad city and a good part of Gujarat State in 2002.  Life will never ever be the same for many who suffered the most inhuman type of atrocities. At this juncture, as Ahmedabad completes six hundred years of its existence, the citizens could in some way make real the one prayer that Mahatma Gandhi sung from the hallowed grounds of his Sabarmati Ashram "Ishwar Allah tere naam, sabko sanmati de Bhagwan!"


But is anybody listening?


(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)

28th February, 2011

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333
Fax:  79 27489018






Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The Sessions Court at the Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad on Tuesday  which  delivered the crucial judgement in the Godhra train fire of 2002, convicting 31 people and acquitting 63 others. ,once again has demonstrated a gross miscarriage of justice.
The verdict  which was pronounced by Additional Sessions Judge PR Patel,leaves several questions unanswered with many glaring gaps in it
The so-called "conspiracy theory" is totally hollow..Whilst the original "main conspirators" are now acquitted..a hash job is blatantly evident in an an attempt to stick to it
Above all ..what happens now to the 63 acquitted.??.Who will bring back the nine years lost in their lives? Will they be compensated by the State.???
The verdict will definitely be appealed in a Higher Court ..
Only when the FULL TRUTH of the Gujarat Carnage is brought out into the open will the cause of Justice be served
Until such time the struggle will continue
Fr Cedric Prakash
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

-  A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace
Street Address : Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India
Postal Address : P B 4050, Navrangpura PO, Ahmedabad - 380 009, Gujarat, India
Phone : 91  79   27455913,  66522333
Fax : 91  79  27489018

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Speak up for every child's right to education.

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, February 17, 2011 11:38 AM
Subject: Speak up for every child's right to education.

IMP:your attention reqd.
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PRASHANT   (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Street Address : Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India
Postal Address : P B 4050, Navrangpura PO, Ahmedabad - 380 009, Gujarat, India
Phone : 91  79   27455913,  66522333
Fax : 91  79  27489018

Thursday, February 03, 2011







- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*


In the last couple of months, the country and very specially the Church in India, has been confronted by three major issues:


i.                     the "so called" confessional statement of the "self-styled" Swami Aseemanand

ii.                   the Supreme Court Judgement on the Staines' murder, in Orissa

iii.                  the Somashekara Commission Report on the attacks of the Christians in Karnataka


Much has been written on each of the above but it is important to highlight certain dimensions of each of them.


i.                     Swami Aseemanand's confessional statement

That Swami Aseemanand is a king-pin in the attacks on minorities has never been in doubt. He played an important role in the attacks of the Christians in the Dangs in 1998 – 99 and thereafter, in other parts of Gujarat; his contribution was significant in organizing the Shabri Kumbh Mela in the Dangs in 2006 together with the likes of Morari Bapu and CM Modi who spewed hated and venom on the Christians; the fact that his tentacles are extremely well-connected with powerful vested interests is well documented.  One needs to wait for further things to unfold in order to understand the depth and breadth of his 'Hindutva' and 'terror' agenda and who his major patrons are.


ii.                   The Supreme Court Judgement

When the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on the Staines murder, no one had any problems with the fact that life imprisonment for the main perpetrator Dara Singh was upheld.  However, what was disconcerting was the very loaded, unconstitutional and obnoxious statements made by the Judges in the Judgement.  Some offensive remarks have since been "expunged"; but the damage has been done! The judges have played to the gallery and to a certain section of the population that desperately needs to continue its minority bashing even if it means focusing on the 'conversion' debate once again.


iii.                  The Somashekara Commission report

The Somashekara Commission report was on expected lines. It gave a "clean chit" to a Government of Karnataka that is steeped in corruption and fascism and which patronized the attacks on Christians in the State in September 2008 and ever since. The 300 questions asked by the Commission (on the prodding by the Sangh Parivar) to the Christians who came to depose before it, smacks of prejudice, divisiveness and of an anti-Constitutional mindset.   Once again, a very serious damage has been inflicted on the credibility of a minority community, even if most thinking people of the country, know that it is a fabricated report.


The question one needs to ask at this juncture is, 'how does the institutional Church in India and the wider Christian community, look at these issues?'  Does one see an 'inter-relatedness' in them or does one prefer to ignore them?  Several Christians, (activists, intellectual, clergy) and even from amongst civil society have responded to what is happening.  This is good and important!  Lead editorials and columns by eminent writers in some of the leading newspapers and periodicals, have in no uncertain terms lambasted the aspersions cast by the Supreme Court Judgement and the so-called findings of the Somashekara Commission.


But, that is not enough!  Much more needs to be done and primary among them is the fact that the Christians in India, (and in particular, the Catholic Church) must address three major challenges:


a.                   to be more inclusive

b.                   to be more authentic and transparent

c.                   to be more prophetic



a          to be more inclusive

what is happening in the country today at every level impinges on the rights and freedoms of every single citizen of the country and not only of the Christians.  At this stage, we have no choice.  We can no longer indulge in the "sin" of diplomatic niceties and correctness (Jesus never did so).  We have to get out of the security of our cocoons symbolized by our "Church compounds" and 'massive structures'.  We have to make common cause with like-minded people and movements of our times. When one does an analysis of both Karnataka and Orissa, it is blatantly obvious that we have not done enough to forge alliances and support movements which work towards countering the fascist and fundamentalist forces.  It is common knowledge that the Bishops and clergy have not spoken in one voice on several of these issues.  We have not prepared our people or stood by them when the going was bad. Laity who have taken a stand on certain issues are either easily side-lined or ignored. A Protest Meeting is being organized at the Town Hall in Bangalore on February 5th - will we see the Catholic Bishops of Karnataka at this gathering? 'Isolationism' and 'exclusiveness' should now be things of the past. Real inter-religious dialogue does not take place hobnobbing with the Shankaracharyas or CEOs.  What is needed is a grassroots involvement and to take a stand when the rights and freedoms of others are trampled upon.  


b.         to be more authentic and transparent

in his message for World Communications Day 2011, which was made public on January 24th, Pope Benedict has called for 'Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life'.  As Church, we have a radical call to be more authentic, more transparent!  The Holy Father affirms "It is precisely this uniquely human spiritual yearning which inspires our quest for truth and for communion and which impels us to communicate with integrity and honesty". Very often, we don't take a stand because, in doing so, we become vulnerable.  Do we have skeletons to hide?  Then let them tumble out and the faster the better.  Are we looking for material gratification?  Jesus has warned us sufficiently about such things.  As a country, we are witnessing the institutionalization of corruption.  It is once again, no longer a matter of choice.  The Church has to be on the side of truth, transparency, authenticity.  We have to allow our light to shine.  That is a certain and  pragmatic way to witnessing Christ in today's India.


c.         to be more Prophetic

As Christians, we are called to play a prophetic role in today's 'dark times' plagued by growing communalism, casteism, corruption, consumerism and criminalization of society.  In order "to announce the good news", we have "to denounce what is wrong" around us. Prophets take a stand (burning the Somashekara Report, telling the Judges that they are first the defenders of the Constitution).  For too long, most of us have allowed the happenings around us 'to run its course'.  Like ostriches, we tend to bury our heads in the sand, try to sweep a problem underneath the carpet and hope it just goes away.  This will never happen!  We need to encourage prophetic voices and to create prophetic approaches, to respond to the reality around us. This is clearly enunciated by Pope Benedict in his message for the World Day of Peace this year.


It is high time, we got our act together.  The three major issues pose three serious challenges to us.  Do we have the courage to get up, light our lamps and accompany the people of our country to live in the Constitutional guarantees of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity?


Or do we refuse to listen to the cries of our people? 


Only time will tell!


(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

3rd February, 2011

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333
Fax:  79 27489018










Wednesday, February 02, 2011

" The Staines Verdict"-EDITORIAL from The Economic & Political Weekly(January 29, 2011 vol xlvI no 5)

The Economic  & Political Weekly
January 29, 2011 vol xlvI no 5 
                           The Staines Verdict

Why the deep prejudice against Christians availing of the freedom granted by
Article 25 of the Constitution?

On 21 January, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the life sentence
of Dara Singh, the main accused in the burning to
death of the Australian Christian missionary Graham
Staines and his two minor sons on the night of 22 January 1999 in
Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district of Orissa. The SC commented
on the intention of the crime thus: "…the intention was to teach a
lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely,
converting poor tribals to Christianity". However, days later, on
25 January, the Court expunged its own comments on conversions.
Staines had been working with leprosy patients in Keonjhar for
nearly 34 years. While the brutal killing evoked reactions of shock
and horror, the Hindutva forces had a pat explanation: the murders
were a result of the tribals' anger against the "forcible" conversions
made by Staines. What was not explained was why this anger against
Staines had not manifested itself for three decades until Hindutva
outfits began their virulent anti-Christian propaganda in the region
and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power at the centre.
Dara Singh's conviction notwithstanding, the impression assiduously
cultivated by the Sangh Parivar that his anti-Muslim
and anti-Christian activities were not backed by any of its affiliates,
stands. So does the view that "popular anger" against "forcible"
conversions by Christian missionaries like Staines are responsible
for attacks on the minority community. The Supreme Court's
statement quoted above has only added to this impression.

The violence against Christian tribals in the Dang district of
Gujarat in 1998, which continued unhindered for more than a
fortnight, was also blamed by Hindutva leaders on the people's
anger against "forcible" conversions. There too, following a pattern,
the area had become the target of a sustained hate campaign and
deliberate provocation against Christians with official help for
quite some time before the attacks began.
In Orissa too, the anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal district in
2008, which led to 38 deaths and destruction of nearly 50,000
homes, were not a flash in the pan. The "ghar vaapsi" programmes
(converting Christian tribals to Hinduism) conducted by the Sangh
Parivar outfits along with the continuing anti-Christian propaganda
had raised tension to straining point. Predictably, the district administration,
under the then BJP-Biju Janata Dal state government,
turned a blind eye to the danger signals. The Maoists claimed responsibility
for Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati's killing but the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad targeted Christians and its leader Pravin
Togadia took out a procession with the swami's body through the
sensitive areas unhindered by the district administration. Thousands
of Christians had fled their homes, living in government relief
camps for well over a year. Despite these now being closed, there
are reports that the Christian tribals still live in fear and insecurity.

Starting from the 1980s, Hindutva forces, emboldened by the BJP's
rise to power, began floating outfits like the Hindu Jagran Manch
(responsible for the Dang attacks) and the Bajrang Dal with which
Dara Singh was linked. In 1999, a Roman Catholic priest, Arul Doss
was killed by a mob at Jamabani in Mayurbhanj district, while a
Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed in the same district on 26
August. The D P Wadhwa Commission's (set up by the BJP government)
report did not take into account the wider context of the steady
creation of an anti-minority atmosphere or even the official complicity.
It blamed the Staines' murders on Dara Singh alone and the
people he managed to incite, discounting the involvement of any
organisation in the murder despite the evidence presented to it.

The tribals have as much right as any other Indian citizen to
avail of the freedom granted by Article 25 of the Constitution.
That is, to propagate one's religion and to practise the religion of
one's choice. There is no evidence on record that Staines indulged
in "forcible" conversions, but the SC bench, with its comments on
conversions, later expunged, showed its deep prejudice against
Christians availing of the freedom granted by Article 25. The
crime was the fruit of sustained and ongoing hate and false propaganda
campaigns unleashed by affiliates of the Sangh Parivar
and which continue to this day.