Biased verdict in Godhra train carnage case

THE case trying suspects involved in the Godhra train carnage of February 27, 2002 in which 59 Karsevaks aboard the Sabarmati Express were burnt to death has been decided. The horrible incident had acted as a catalyst for the genocide in Gujarat, in which incensed Hindu mobs slaughtered over 2000 Muslims in cold blood, raping women and even torching children, while police stood watching helplessly. Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendar Singh Modi allegedly supervised the massacre, which earned him the dubious title of “The Butcher of Gujarat”. Nine years later, a special “fast track court” court — appointed by the Gujarat High Court on the orders of the Indian Supreme Court — has convicted 31 accused and acquitted 63 others accepting the “pre-planned conspiracy” theory of the prosecution. Pronouncing the judgment in camera in the court held inside the high-security Sabarmati central jail on the outskirts of Ahmadabad, Judge P.R. Patel said a hearing for deciding the quantum of punishment for the convicted persons would be held on February 25. All the 31 accused were held guilty on two major counts — Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.The judgment appears to be biased and faulty. Interestingly, even while accepting the “conspiracy” theory, the court acquitted at least two of the accused whom the police had all along maintained were among the “main conspirators.” They are Maulana Umarji — who was alleged to have shouted over the public address system fitted in a nearby mosque asking the people of Godhra to rush to the railway station and “kill” karsevaks aboard the Sabarmati Express — and Bilal Hussain Kalota, the then Congress-supported (independent) president of the Godhra municipality, who was claimed to be the main person to have collected the mob outside the rail platform to “set fire” to S-6 coach. The court accepted the “conspiracy” theory on the basis of oral and circumstantial evidence, which is an unacceptable judicial practice, especially where likely death sentence is to be announced for the Muslims accused. The defence counsel has expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the verdict. I. M. Munshi, one of the six-member counsel for the accused, regretted that the court based its judgment on the “evidence” of only four witnesses and an alleged “confessional statement” by one of the accused, which did not merit being “counted.” According to Mr. Munshi, the court heavily relied on the statements by Ajay Baria, a tea vendor on the station platform, and Sikandar Mohammad, who lived near the mosque adjacent to the station and had “rushed” to the platform on hearing the “commotion.”

Both Ajay and Sikandar claimed in their statements given under Section 164 of the Cr. PC that they had actually “seen” the five accused enter S-6 by breaking the vestibule and pour petrol. Two others who gave statements under Section 164 were Prabhatsinh Chauhan and Ranjit Jodha, both employees of the “Bawa” pump. They told the investigating authorities that they had “sold” 120 litters of petrol the previous night to the accused. The only “confessional statement” given by Salim Behra was rendered when the case was being tried under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has since been repealed. So the statement given under the POTA would not hold and it should not have been relied upon by the court.The acquittal of Maulana Umarji, whom the police originally held the “principal conspirator,” the prosecution could not produce even an “iota of evidence” against him. The aged Maulana was actually running a relief camp with the permission of the District Collector, following the riots post-Godhra, when the police picked him up. A loudspeaker blaring from the nearby mosque “inciting” the mob was also a “cooked up story” by the police. For, after Umarji, the police named Maulana Abdullah as speaking on the public address system at that time but later it was found that he was not even present at Godhra and was in fact abroad on the fateful day.It is now believed that the 31 convicted would move the Gujarat High Court against the verdict. Such a dubious verdict coming in the Godhra Case only proves the point that the Muslims of Gujarat continue to be persecuted and cannot look forward to getting justice from a biased Hindu court – Dailymailnews