Congress divided on Gujarat issue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Qazi Umar

Jumada' al-Akhirah 14, 1425 2004-08-01


by Qazi Umar (World, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 6, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1425)

On July 14 Laloo Prasad Yadav, India's new Minister of Railways, who is also a staunch anti-Sangh Parivar advocate, ordered a fresh investigation into the alleged attack on a train in Godhra that is supposed to have set off the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. He has told parliament that the fresh probe will be completed in three months. A previous investigation, led by two retired judges, has not yet pinpointed the cause of the fire on the train. It is still unclear whether inflammable material was hurled into the train from outside, or whether a short-circuit ignited the blaze. Yadav has told parliament that forensic investigations reveal that inflammable material inside the train led to the fire, and that the former BJP-led Central government had not made the forensic report public. One is led to suspect that it may have been suppressed deliberately.

The next day there was a row in parliament among BJP members over Yadav's decision; it clearly exposed their fears that the truth behind the genocide might come out. The BJP and Shiv Sena stalled business in both houses over Yadav's decision to hold a fresh inquiry into the "train carnage". The BJP and Shiv Sena MPs stormed the well in both Houses, claiming that the new government was trying to "divide people on communal lines". The presiding officers adjourned the Houses twice before finally adjourning them for the day. Describing the probe as a "conspiracy", one former minister, Murali Manohar Joshi, said that the move was aimed at creating "instability and unrest in Gujarat". Laloo, however, argued that he is acting under a statutory obligation. "This [the probe] is mandatory as per the Railway Safety Act," he affirmed.

On June 2 the chief minister of Gujarat had introduced a new law in that state. The new law is called the "Gujarat Control of Organized Crime [Gujcoc] Bill, 2004". It is ironic that a state whose people inflicted and suffered organised crime at its worst in 2002 should suddenly introduce a law to counter it. Because what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was a meticulously planned state-orchestrated massacre, it is very unlikely that this new law will create any difficulties for the criminals and torturers who committed crimes in 2002. Probably this new law will be used mostly to harass, arrest and imprison Muslims under yet another legal pretext.

In another typically stage-managed incident on June 15, Gujarat police claimed to have "foiled another attempt to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi" by intercepting a car and gunning down its four Muslim occupants, one of them a woman. Police sources claimed that they were "Lashkar-e-Tayiba operatives" who had driven to Ahmedabad from Mumbai. Two of the four killed were identified as "Pakistani nationals": Jishan Johar (alias Jaanbaz) and Amjadali Akbarali Rana (alias Salim). The third was identified as Javed from Pune, who was a convert Muslim (he had originally been Pranesh Pillai from Kerala). The woman was identified as Ishrat Zaha and the sources said that both Ishrat and Javed "were recruited to provide logistic support to the Pakistanis". Gopinatha Pillai, Javed's father, has made an impassioned plea for an impartial probe into the killing of his son. He said that his son was "wrongly framed" and demanded that the CBI investigate the killing.

The "murder of Pranesh was a blatant violation of the human rights protection [that should be] given to a citizen", said Gopinatha Pillai. He said that the allegation that Javed was a "terrorist" was "without any basis or credible investigation". Alleging that the killing was a "trap shooting" done by Gujarat police for "some ulterior motives," Pillai said that his son had been a law-abiding citizen who had never been involved in any criminal activities. "[The] Police is compelling my daughter-in-law to give statement as dictated by them and are propagating false information and allegations through the media," protested Pillai.

Various other recent developments also illustrate the general precariousness of the Muslims' situation in the India that purports to be modern, independent, tolerant, broad-minded and secular. On July 12 the Supreme Court issued notice to the government of Gujarat on an application alleging that it had suppressed facts pertaining to the grant of bail to defendants in various post-Godhra riot cases. For instance, Zahira Sheikh, the key witness in Vadodara's 'Best Bakery' murder case, created a stir in the media last year by raising questions about the judicial process. She emerged from hiding after a high court judge freed all 21 defendants because of "insufficient evidence". The 'Best Bakery' case is one of the first to be tried in the 'fast-track courts' set up to deal with the perpetrators of the Gujarat atrocities. Zahira lost two members of her family when their bakery was burned in the violence. The police complaint was based on her statement, in which she identified several people who took part in the destruction of her family's business. From her home above the bakery, she had seen the mob reduce the family's livelihood to ashes.

According to the investigations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the entire system in Gujarat is working against the genocide-affected people. Initially the police even refused to take down statements. When they did register complaints, they did not include all the details given by witnesses; often they did not record the suspects' names that witnesses gave them. They also filed group FIRs (First Information Reports) instead of separate ones for each complaint. The police have already closed more than half of the over 5,000 cases, claiming that there is not enough evidence to prosecute anyone. These cases will not now be tried in any court before Allah's.

Fraudulent police enquiries have ensured that the few cases that did make it to court have ended in acquittals. Witnesses to Ahmedabad's Chamanpura massacre, for instance, are still appealing for cases to be reopened and reinvestigated. They claim that the police did not take down their testimonies properly, deliberately omitting details and names. At least 67 human beings were burned to death in that massacre, yet the police still dragged their feet.

A UN report on July 15 mentioned the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat while discussing the importance of "cultural liberty", and pointing out the growing distrust between distinct ethnic groups, which "endangers peace, development and human freedom" in various parts of the world. "Sectarian violence killed thousands of Muslims and drove thousands more from their homes in Gujarat and elsewhere in India, a champion of cultural accommodation," the UNDP report on Human Development said. The report also mentioned India's POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) in the context of laws around the world that have been passed to deal with "coercive groups" and their activities.

In another development on July 23, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), investigating the Bilkis Yakub Rasool gang-rape incident, supported the victim's request for transfer of the trial, rightly arguing that a fair trial could be possible if it were moved from Gujarat to Maharashtra. In an affidavit before the apex court, the investigating agency detailed the perceived threat to the witnesses, and warned that they might come to harm if the trial were conducted in Gujarat. CBI had charge-sheeted 20 suspects, six of them police officials, in connection with the gang-rape, near Panivela village, in which a mob attacked the family and relatives of Bilkis Yakub and then raped her.

Since February 2002 the Muslims of Gujarat have also suffered further indignities. They were stripped economically; many are now destitute and homeless. The harassment also goes on in other forms: eyewitness accounts are being manipulated and reports of investigations distorted. The media's attention is being diverted constantly to "other important issues"; only time will tell what justice awaits the surviving Muslims in Gujarat.

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