By Maya Palit
Suresh ‘Richard’ Jadeja, a man from Chharanagar in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, was convicted by a Gujarat special court in 2012 for having assaulted, raped and murdered Muslim women. He was part of a mob during the February 2002 riots in Naroda Patiya that burnt people, killed three children and ripped out the foetus from a pregnant woman before killing her. He is currently serving a 31-year sentence in Sabarmati Jail, Ahmedabad, for these crimes, and even recounted what he had done with much bravado and little remorse in a 2008 Tehelka sting operation: “I raped Muslim women till they were pulverized to pickle”.
Convicts like Jadeja are granted furlough for a limited period every year by prison authorities, who have to mandatorily notify the local police in writing whenever a parole is granted. To say that Jadeja created havoc the last two times he was out on parole would be to put it mildly, because he raped his wife (she will be referred to as Azra in this piece) in July 2015, and brutally attacked journalist Revati Laul in January 2016. He applied for parole three times after the attack on his wife but was turned down, with the judge citing his violence against Azra. But astonishingly, he got furlough at the end of last month. This time around, the police station was not notified of his absence or provided with any written communication. “His furlough was cancelled three or four days ago,” the police inspector at Sardarnagar police station informed Laul much later, on December 10. Jadeja is now back in prison, but his wife Azra went through a harrowing time in the period when she knew that he was out, and no protection was arranged for her whatsoever.
Laul describes her painstaking efforts to get the police and lawyers to track down this man and obtain protection for herself and Azra.
When did you last interact with Jadeja? What happened during your meeting?
I got a call from [his wife] Azra telling me that he was out on parole in January 2016. I was very surprised, because he had previously been denied parole, and the judge had cited his attack on his wife – in July 2015, he had raped her while out on parole. Azra told me he had tied her hands behind her back, sodomised her and burnt cigarette butts on her hands. She fled and moved back to her parents’ place. She told me, “But every time he’s beat me up in the past, my mother says you have two young children, you need to go back. But this time there is no way I can go back.” Azra then asked me to explain what had happened to her mother, who then agreed not to send her back to his house. Azra has filed cases of sexual abuse and attempt to murder, besides filing for a divorce.
But in [early] 2016, Jadeja got parole on the grounds that he had to look for his daughter, who had eloped and had gone missing. I went to his house and told him that I’m writing a book, and that I’ve spoken to his wife and kids but would really appreciate speaking to him.
“Kya bataya mere bibi ne?” was his response. I began to recount how Azra had told me that she was very young when she got married and, before I could finish, he lunged forward and beat me, grabbed me by my hair, pulled out a chunk of hair, and shoved me against a wall. He has the hands of a wrestler. I had marks on my face for days and developed a blood clot in my eye afterwards. I didn’t think I would get out of there alive, and I probably wouldn’t have, had his son and a few onlookers not pulled him away. I ran. While running, I thought about his anger: it was because he knew that I was the reason his wife had access to the courts. I filed a complaint and went to the press and he was arrested the following morning. His parole was cancelled, and the head of the Special Operations Group in the police, BC Solanki, told the press that because of the number of violations, Jadeja was unlikely to get parole anymore. This was a glitch that would not happen again.
How come, then, he was allowed out this time? How did you find out and what was his wife’s reaction? Was the police able to help you or assure protection?
On November 29, I met Azra, who told me that he was out on parole again, this time on furlough (annual leave). She was in a huge panic because he had called her brother and asked to meet. When I met her a few days later, she hadn’t slept. She told me she was having nightmares about him reappearing and stabbing her.
Azra and I went to the local police stations to file pleas requesting that the furlough be cancelled, and had a lawyer preface these with a legal note. But when we took these to the office of the Inspector General of Prisons and Additional Deputy General of Police TS Bisht, he waved us away. He was watching TV, sounded irritated with our demands and refused, bluntly, to do anything for us: we should just go next door and speak to the Inspector General of Prisons (Coastal Security), Mr. Jebalia. Here’s the joke. Jebalia was out of town. I was taken aback, because with Jebalia away, Bisht is the person in charge. I call Jebalia. He said he would do something about it only when he’s back. The fact that Jadeja was let out was bad enough, but what was worse is that his office did not bother to inform the police so that they could keep vigil. And when I asked Jebalia all this and mentioned that as a result Azra and I were in danger, he displayed absolutely no sense of urgency. “You want to meet me…I will check my appointments in the next two to three days and give you time.” When I protested saying with each passing day my life and that of Azra’s were in danger, his matter-of-fact reply was, “I’ve given it in writing, na, so I will look into it.” The complete apathy of the prison system was stunning.
We asked for a copy of the furlough. It allows Jadeja out for a period of 14 days, but it did not mention when his leave commenced. It stipulates that the convict must abide by the law, not meet with unlawful people or criminals and that he should report to the local police once a day. Meanwhile, the police had not received a court order or note from jail authorities informing them of the furlough. In a letter they sent me on December 2, they said they were, therefore, not required to get Jadeja to report to them daily. “How can we ask him to check in with no written order, Ma’am?” was what they said to me. So Jadeja was out on the loose for a week without having to sign at the station every day.
Did you then have to pursue legal action? Did you make any headway?
I was recommended a High Court lawyer, HL Sayeed. I met him in his plush office in New York Tower, Ahmedabad, on Friday, December 2, and he said that the former IPS officer, Rahul Sharma, who has worked on detailed investigations into key Gujarat riot cases and dug up information implicating police officers and political leaders, would fight my case. I wondered whether courts would assume that this case was more about 2002 than the dangers of a ruthless man violating his parole. Sharma, who is now practising as a lawyer with Sayeed, took very detailed notes, and also explained to me that it would be unconstitutional to demand that Jadeja not be allowed out for his remaining sentence because he had rights too, as a convict. I said that’s not what I was looking for – but some sort of restraining order to prevent him entering the parts of the city that Azra and I inhabit, or at the very least, that the jail authorities send us (the people he has violently attacked) prior notice before he is granted leave. He agreed with me, and said he would draft an application by Monday, December 5. After that, he was evasive and didn’t answer my calls, and on Tuesday afternoon, by which time I was in a complete panic. And then, someone claiming to be a friend of his called me to say Mr. Sayeed and his colleague Mr. Sharma had decided to drop my case because they’re already battling cases from 2002 and didn’t want more of that on their hands. I went numb because this inordinate delay meant that I had to drop the idea of going to court altogether. It would take a day or two to find another lawyer and draw up a fresh petition, and by then Jadeja’s leave would end.
You have worked for several years, on and off, in Gujarat. What was the atmosphere in the aftermath of Godhra? And what has your experience in Gujarat told you about the environment that allowed the likes of Jadeja to commit these heinous crimes?
In 2002, I was working at NDTV in Delhi and was very disturbed because it felt like yet another cycle of deepening fissures along religious lines, exactly a decade after the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Ten years had passed but it felt like we had only moved further into a process of saffronisation. I remember my managing editor, Rajdeep Sardesai, telling me how he had trishools pressed threateningly into his chest when he returned from interviewing Modi in Ahmedabad. A year after the riot, when I was based in Gujarat, there was still leftover violence and sputterings of resentment, and Molotov cocktails exploded from time to time in politically sensitive areas where riots had taken place. I remember being cautioned outside a shop, “Don’t lean against this shutter, it might have electric current running through it.” But what really affected me that year was all of middle-class Gujarat appearing puzzled about why the previous year’s violence had reached such terrifying heights. As a journalist, I kept asking myself: if all I’m doing is preaching to the converted, what good is that? How do you explain to people on the other side of the spectrum, the people with an intense hatred of the Muslim community, without dictating to them?
In a search for this answer, I have since tried to meet people who were at the fringes of violent mobs in 2002. Through coincidences – like being pushed into post-riot rehabilitation work with NGOs (which had placed them in close proximity to Muslims), at least one person I know began to rethink his prejudices against Muslims. I moved to Gujarat in January 2015 again to write a book in which I am exploring the predicaments of people associated with the mob, because in order to change the politics of hate you need to first look at it up close. That’s what brought me to Suresh Richard Jadeja. If he was bragging about his horrific deeds, naturally he has an audience – you can’t isolate him from the collective desire for violence against Muslims that he’s tapping into.
You have previously reported on domestic violence in various parts of the country. Was the lackadaisical attitude of the police in Gujarat an exception?
I have primarily reported on sexual and domestic violence in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The system is a little less broken in Delhi, especially in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case. It is the capital, so the press watches it more closely and gives it more coverage than say, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Kashmir. But individual thanas have displayed the same sort of apathy I witnessed in Gujarat, and were often on the side of the perpetrator rather than the victim. It’s not so much that the system is deliberately vicious to victims, but it is wired in a certain way and therefore difficult to unwire it.
It ultimately depends on who you are, who you are naming, and how much traction you have. As I noticed in the Jadeja case, police action depends on your level of access to the system. The fact that I had gone to the press made a difference, and the Police Commissioner told me that he had passed on my petitions. If you can access the Police Commissioner, the ACP, or the Director General of Police, the chances of your complaints being noticed are far greater, though even then there could be lapses and delays. I remember a case where the police in a South Delhi thana threatened a child who had been raped and attempted to scare her into not speaking out by saying she would be attacked by devils and ghosts. It turned out that they were working for the principal of her school, who was powerful. But her father relentlessly pursued the case and turned to NGOs for help, so action was taken.
Image credit: Ahmedabad – India by Emannuel Dyan via Flickr/CC by 2.0