Tribulation No Trial
Key accused in
the high-profile Gulbarg Society massacre in Ahmedabad are roaming free
despite their admission that the police gave them a free run to kill 70
innocents, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri
WILL THE Special Investigation Team (SIT) interrogate Police Inspector
KG Erda who was present when the marauding mobs went about their killing
spree in Gulbarg? Will they summon officers who turned down all pleas
of help by Dara Mody (whose son had gone missing) sitting at the police
commissioner’s office just two kilometres away?” This is Tanvir
Jafri, son of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, keeping his fingers crossed
on the success of the team appointed last month by the Supreme Court to
re-investigate 14 Gujarat pogrom cases of 2002. Having lost his father,
who was hacked to pieces and set on fire, and waiting in vain for over
five years for justice, Tanvir’s cynicism is not misplaced.
The questions he has raised for the SIT are real and in their answers
lies the key to the Gulbarg housing society massacre. Thirty-nine people
were killed, according to official figures, and 31 people went “missing”.
“It was a 9-to-5 job by the rioters that could not have been executed
without the direct complicity of the police. Will the SIT begin work on
this premise, given that three out of five officers on the team are Gujarat
cadre IPS officers?” asks Tanvir. The attack on the Gulbarg Society,
which was first ambushed, started at 7.30am and lasted till 6pm on February
28, 2002, the day after the Godhra train fire.
TEHELKA’s sting operation published and telecast in November last
year leaves not an iota of doubt about the complicity of the police officers.
TEHELKA has on tape three key accused in the Gulbarg killings –
Madan Chawal, Mangilal Jain and Raju Prahlad — describing how they
carried out the attack along with a host of Sangh Parivar leaders and
how the police gave them a free run. The National Human Rights Commission
(NHRC) has now taken cognisance of the TEHELKA tapes and in a full commission
order last week, recommended an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
According to the three accused, the police not only gave them a free hand,
but also exhorted the rioters to kill Muslims. Mangilal Jain said that
the police inspector in charge of Meghaninagar police station, KG Erda
told the rioters that they had three to four hours to carry out the killings.
Raju said that police personnel deployed in the area not only stood back
but signalled to the rioters to go for the kill. Erda arrived to “rescue”
the survivors after the massacre was almost over. At this point, related
Chawal, the rioters approached Erda and told him he was not doing the
right thing as the survivors could testify against them.
So Erda came up with a heinous plan — as the van carrying the survivors
drew away from Gulbarg, the rioters were to pelt stones at it so the constable
on the vehicle could claim to have been scared off. He would flee and
the mob could then torch it. But the plan could not be executed because
of the timely intervention of a Muslim inspector called Pathan, Chawal
said. At Gulbarg, where Jafri resided, poor Muslims from adjoining slums
had taken shelter within the compound. The attackers blasted the wall
from the front and the rear. Alarmed at the mob ambushing the complex,
Jafri began to make frantic calls to police officers and political leaders.
When nothing seemed to work, the accused told TEHELKA, Jafri opened fire
on the mob and injured a few people. Then he offered the mob money pleading
for them to spare him and the other Muslims in Gulbarg. At this, the mob
told him to come down to them with the money.
JAIN SAID that as soon as he stepped out, Jafri dropped the money on the
ground and tried to rush back. But the mob pounced on him. Chawal recalled
the killing: “Paanch-chheh jan pakad liye the, phir usko jaise pakad
ke khada rakha, phir logon mein se kisi ne talwar maari… haath kaate…
haath kaat ke phir pair kaate… phir na sab kaat dala… phir
tukde kar ke phir lakda jo lagaye thhe, lakde uspe rakh ke phir jala daala…
zinda jala daala… (Five or six people held him, then someone struck
him with a sword… chopped off his hand, then his legs… then
everything else… after cutting him to pieces, they put him on the
wood they’d piled and set it on fire… burnt him alive…)”
After killing Jafri, the mob dragged out other Muslims and slaughtered
them and set them on fire.
At around 4.30 in the evening, the police finally dispersed the mob and
the survivors were rescued. The sting operation gave finality to allegations
of victims and their families about the complicity of the police, the
tacit backing of the political establishment as well as the charges that
the police didn’t bother to mention many names of rioters in the
FIRs despite the complainants spelling them out. “Besides the TEHELKA
operation, there is enormous evidence available on the ground of how the
rioters conducted themselves and how the police helped them,” says
Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ), which is a co-petitioner
along with the National Human Rights Commission in the Supreme Court.
In its final submission in the apex court, the CPJ has listed witnesses
who had complained that the names of many rioters had been dropped by
the police from the FIRs. It cites the Gujarat government’s own
admission that as many as 25 persons named by witnesses and victims in
affidavits before the Supreme Court in applications to various authorities
and in police statements have been left out of the chargesheets and not
arrested. The government has also admitted that out of 46 accused in the
Gulberg case, 41 are out on bail. Prahlad Raju recalled that the police
treated the accused with all honour: “The Crime Branch people behaved
very nicely with us... We felt completely at home… Our family members
used to come to meet us and they were allowed to… We were kept at
the Branch for about a week.”
The TEHELKA investigation also showed how the Gujarat government already
had a legal remedy plan in place even before the post-Godhra riots started.
An entire battery of lawyers, including public prosecutors, was kept ready
from within the ranks of the Sangh Parivar. Will the SIT look at this?
In the case of Gulbarg, Chetan Shah, a VHP member and a leading lawyer
of Ahmedabad who first defended the Naroda Patiya pogrom accused, was
appointed as the public prosecutor. TEHELKA has Prahlad Raju on tape saying
how Chetan advised him when to surrender and how to go about his case.
“It is public knowledge that the entire system in Gujarat was subverted
to facilitate the pogrom and its legal aftermath.
There are witnesses, there are sufferers, there are media reports, there
is the clinching TEHELKA operation. What more the SIT would want, except
the will and the courage to get to the masterminds and not just a few
small fries? Justice will be delivered not by picking up some 35-30 ordinary
people but by nailing the perpetrators,” says Tanvir. Today, the
Gulbarg Society compound wears an eerie look, the charcoal stains of the
fire that engulfed many slit-up bodies are still there for the SIT to
see. There is nobody there, none dares to return, but the quiet here speaks
of the conspiracy. Over to the Special Investigation Team.