Basant Rawat


Over time many accused of setting the railway coach afire in Gujarat have been found innocent; this shows the arbitrariness of Gujarat authorities against Muslims.


Ahmedabad, Feb 24: Abid Sheikh, then a 25-year-old lawyer, had gone to the police station on the evening of February 27, 2002, to ask why a friend’s father had been detained. He ended up being arrested on the charge of burning coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express.


“As soon as I entered the police station and enquired about the detention of Farooqbhai Kasmani, I was also pushed into the lock-up and made an accused in the train burning case,” Abid recalled yesterday. He was acquitted by the special court in Sabarmati jail on Tuesday.


Kasmani, who had gone to the police station to complain that his shop and godown were burnt in the backlash following the train fire, had been cleared within months of his arrest.


Still, Abid was lucky. He could prove he was in court when the train was set on fire and got bail after 11 months.


Inayat Jugra, a senior clerk approaching retirement, was making some bills in the public works department about 3km from Godhra station when the train was set ablaze. But he was picked up from his house that night and spent nine years in jail even after his son Shoaib proved before the special investigation team (SIT) that he was at work that day.


Jugra, a father of four, came out on parole for his children’s weddings. Today he was finally back home, cleared of all charges. Of the 63 found innocent on Tuesday, 46 were freed on that day and three yesterday. No family member went to Sabarmati jail to receive the men who spent years in jail for a crime they did not commit, choosing to wait for them at home.


“We did not want any tension because of our presence,” said Saeed Umarji, the son of Maulana Hussain Umarji, a leading cleric of Godhra who was labelled the chief conspirator only to be found innocent. Fourteen of the 63 had been freed on bail earlier. None of the men released since Tuesday is willing to speak to the media before the punishment for the 31 found guilty is announced tomorrow.


R.B. Sreekumar, a former DGP, says the fact that so many people were found innocent only proves the line of investigation was wrong.


“The conspiracy theory was floated to consolidate the vote bank and to polarise the two communities. In fact, the conspiracy theory was the actual conspiracy hatched by Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani,” said the former police chief who had filed several affidavits before the SIT and the Nanavati Commission alleging that the chief minister had a vested political interest in projecting the Godhra fire as a conspiracy.


“Days before my deposition I was told by home secretary G.C. Murmur that I should tell the commission that there was indeed a conspiracy to attack the kar sevaks’ train returning from Ayodhya,” said Sreekumar.


A sting operation by a magazine in 2007 had alleged that the two witnesses who claimed that there was a conspiracy were bribed by the investigating officer.


Abid Samsi, a retired professor, said: “The verdict upholding the conspiracy angle does not make sense if the main conspirators are found to be innocent.”


Unlike the Ayodhya verdict, when there was a curfew-like situation in the state, the minority community was unaffected by Tuesday’s verdict.


Activist Hanif Lakdawala said this was because rich Muslims, mainly businessmen, had made their peace with Modi and were praising him while the poor were too busy trying to survive to worry about justice. The middle class feels it is a small minority, he said.


“We don’t want to continue to beat our chests about the 2002 riots, we want to move ahead. We have already moved ahead but we want to fight for justice for the 2002 riot victims,” Lakdawala said.


A sense of despondency has gripped the community that feels it has to accept their status as “second class citizens in Gujarat”, he added.


(The Telegraph, Calcutta, Feb 26, 2011)

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