Was No Waiting Mob'
By Darshan Desai
03 July, 2004
It has been two-and-a-half years since
that ill-fated day when a torched train at Godhra sparked off a communal
wildfire that consumed much of Gujarat and scorched the conscience of
an entire nation. The burning of the two coaches of the Sabarmati Express
on February 27, 2002, in which 58 people including kar sevaks returning
from Ayodhya were killed, has been repeatedly described by the Gujarat
government as a premeditated effort by local Muslims who worked in connivance
with other members of the minority community in Godhra. The state railway
police chargesheet, filed after the incident, went along much the same
Eyewitnesses saw no waiting mob; people gathered only later in groups
of 10 or 15. But the depositions before the G.T. Nanavati Commission
probing the Godhra incident (as sourced by Outlook) reveal that things
were not as
black and white as they have been made out to be, they are overlaid
by confusing shades of grey.
The statements by
railway authorities, police officials, eyewitnesses, and kar sevaks
who were aboard the train sharply contradict the latest police chargesheet
filed in the case in 2003. As per the police version, the train was
torched by a Muslim mob from the Signal Falia colony outside Godhra
station. The depositions before the commission paint a different picture
and contradict the police account.
Here is how.
The police chargesheet
claims eight jerrycans of petrol were poured on the floor of the S-6
compartment by as many as seven people. It says the petrol was stocked
in the Muslim-dominated Signal Falia area, a little outside the Godhra
station, and used to torch the train.
before the commission say there was no fire on the floor, nobody saw
anyone entering the coach or pouring petrol. Significantly, burn injuries
suffered by surviving passengers were all above the waist. This could
not have happened if the fire was on the floor of the compartment.
For instance, Raju
Bishankumar Bhargava, the then SP of Godhra, says in his deposition,
"I reached the burning coach at about 8.30 am. I saw people with
black (charred) faces and with some burn injuries on the head coming
out of the coach. I saw ten to twelve passengers coming out of the coach.
The injuries which I had noticed on the passengers were on the upper
part of their bodies. I did not notice any injury below their waists.
I did not see any flames rising in that area of the coach which I could
see from the door. I saw only smoke there. I did not notice any flames
on the floor of the area between the two doors. I also did not smell
any inflammable fuel like petrol, kerosene or diesel. I did not see
any person from the Muslim community preventing the passengers in S-6
and S-7 from coming out of their coaches."
Passengers on the
Sabarmati Express confirm this in their respective depositions. Says
kar sevak Mahesh Chaudhary, who was returning from Ayodhya, "Before
jumping out of the coach, I did not see any fluid on the floor of the
coach. I did not see any flames while I was inside the train. I saw
only smoke." Savitaben Sadhu, Babubhai Patel and Dwarkabhai Patel,
also passengers on the train, depose likewise.
Savitaben did not
recall seeing "any person coming inside the coach from outside
and pouring any fluid". Similarly, Babubhai remembers neither seeing
any person in a Muslim dress or with beard inside the coach nor any
such Muslim rushing inside the coach. Dwarkabhai too "did not see
any flames" when he was inside the coach. "I (also) did not
notice any fluid being poured inside (when I was in the coach),"
he has told the commission in his testimony. "I had not seen any
person sprinkling any fluid or putting fire to the coach."
The police present
the Godhra incident as a pre-planned conspiracy, as part of which a
mob waited in and around the station to attack the train.
Depositions by railway officials say there was no such mob; people gathered
only later in small groups of 10 or 15.
For instance, assistant
station master Rajendraprasad Misrilal Meena, who was on duty at Godhra
and was an eyewitness, says, "I could see from the cabin that the
train had stopped (when the chain was pulled). At that time, no crowd
was seen between the cabin and the train. When it (train) reached near
cabin A, some five to six minutes later, there was still no crowd. But
soon a crowd started collecting. Even so, they did not come together,
they came in tens and fifteens; women and children were among them too."
The police 'investigation'
also says that people from outside pelted stones at the S-6 compartment,
while several others hopped on to the train, ruptured the rubber vestibule
and burnt the coach.
officials who were eyewitnesses have made depositions to the contrary,
saying the stone-pelting was from both sides, from the train and from
outside, and this was probably the result of the altercation between
kar sevaks and the hawkers at the station.
Mohan Jagdish Yadav,
Railway Protection Force constable on duty and yet another eyewitness,
records, "The passengers shouting and throwing stones were going
towards the wall (which separates Signal Falia from the station area).
The people who were throwing stones from Signal Falia were doing so
from behind the wall and some of them were trying to jump over the wall.
The passengers who were throwing stones were shouting Jai Shri Ram."
The police had earlier
said a mob splashed petrol from jerrycans into the compartment, hurled
burning rags and set the S-6 bogie on fire. There was no mention of
the fire being ignited by someone inside.
However, a report
by the government's own Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), which recreated
the scene using water in different types of containers and throwing
it from outside into the coach, concluded it was impossible to burn
a coach like that from the outside.
In its Spot Investigation
Report No. 2 submitted to the commission, the FSL notes, "It was
found that the height of the window of the coach was around seven feet
from the ground at that place. Under the circumstances, it was not possible
to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach with either
a bucket or a jerrycan. This is because while doing this it was found
that most of the fluid was getting spilled outside. Thus if inflammable
liquid is thrown from the outside, then a major part of it would fall
around the track outside and catch fire and cause damage to the outer
part of the bottom side of the coach. But after examination of the coach
and track, no effect was found of the fire on the bottom side below
the window of the coach. By taking into consideration this fact...a
conclusion can be drawn that no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside
from outside the coach."
What did happen
then? Going by the evidence, senior railway officials suggest that it
was probably the rubber vestibule between the two coaches that caught
fire and caused the smoke. Since the doors and windows were shut, this
may have led to a sharp depletion in oxygen levels. What caused this
fire is still a mystery. What is clear is that in all likelihood Muslim
mobs outside Godhra station did not rush to the Sabarmati Express and
torch it as the police chargesheet would have us believe.
As senior Gujarat
high court lawyer Mukul Sinha, who has been representing human rights
organisations before the commission, puts it, "We are saying this
on the basis of all the available evidence with all the agencies as
well as our own investigation that the Godhra incident where 58 innocent
people lost their lives was not premeditated.It may well have been an
accidental fire and we say this with responsibility and after carefully
and objectively examining the evidence and depositions in hand."
That is where things
stand as of now.Perhaps more facts will surface when the cross-examination
of police and railway officials before the commission begins on June
29. The first officer to be examined will be the deputy SP of Godhra,
K.C. Bawa. A quasi-official inquiry is also likely to be initiated by
the Union railway ministry. This probe will trace the Sabarmati Express's
journey from Faizabad onwards and reconstruct the events as they might