By Amala Dasarathi
On 28th February, 2002, during the infamous Gujarat riots, 69 people living in Gulbarg Society, a Muslim locality in Ahmedabad, were dragged out of their homes by a Hindu mob. At least 35 were burnt alive, and 69 were killed in total.
Over 14 years later, on 2nd June, 2016, a Special SIT Court convicted 24 people of the murders. Yesterday, it completed their sentencing. Eleven people convicted for murder were sentenced to life imprisonment. Of the remaining 13 convicted on charges like arson and rioting, 12 were sentenced to a term of seven years imprisonment (including Atul Vaid, a leader of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad), while one was sentenced to 10 years. The Court has requested the Centre not to remit the sentences of those accused to life imprisonment even after they complete a term of fourteen years in prison, at which point the Centre has the discretion to remit the sentences.
In his judgement, Special trial court judge PB Desai also made a startling ruling that it was Ehsan Jafri, the former Congress MP who died in the massacre, who instigated the stone throwing mob into further violence by shooting at it “from a number of locations” within the society. He came to this conclusion by relying on police witnesses and ballistic evidence. At the same time, the court also called the massacre the “darkest day in the history of civil society” while acquitting 36 people, including alleged main conspirator and BJP councillor Bipin Patel. The court also rejected the prosecution’s claim that the attack on locality had been a premeditated one.
Jafri’s widow Zakia Jafri has been relentlessly fighting for justice for him and the other victims for 14 years now. Zakia was the only riot survivor who filed a complaint against then-CM Narendra Modi and 62 others, following which her husband’s relatives shunned her. In June 2006, she filed a complaint alleging that the police refused to register an FIR against Narendra Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and several other ministers and top administrative officials. Her plea went unheard by the Gujarat High Court in 2007. In 2008, the Supreme Court took cognisance of the matter and ordered the Narendra Modi-led government in Gujarat to re-investigate some cases from the riots, including the Gulbarg Society one. For this, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted, headed by the former CBI Director RK Raghavan. In 2010, Modi was given a clean chit after detailed questioning by the SIT. An appeal made to the Supreme Court by Zakia Jafri and others failed.
Heavily dissatisfied with the verdict, Zakia Jafri said, “After so many people died, that’s all the court could decide? Just 12 guilty? I will have to fight this.”
They brutally killd Ehsan Jafri, this is quantum of sentence?They should have all got life imprisonment: Zakia Jafri pic.twitter.com/QrvcBRnAEy
— ANI (@ANI_news) June 17, 2016
Civil rights activist, Teesta Setalvad, who has been fighting for victims of the massacre, also expressed her disappointment. She said, “We welcome the judgement but we are disappointed in the lesser sentence. We are not for revenge verdict but reformative justice.”
We welcome the verdict but we are disappointed, on the lesser sentence. : Teesta Setalvad on Gulbarg Case verdict pic.twitter.com/TnTjE0xm4n
— ANI (@ANI_news) June 17, 2016