No Justice Nanavati,
What You Say Is Not Correct
By Asghar Ali Engineer
06 June, 2003
Justice G.T. Nanavati who
has been investigating Godhra incident and the Gujarat riot that followed
recently said that he has so far found no evidence that the state machinery
and police were involved in Gujarat communal violence. Justice Nanavati
has given this statement to the press and also spoke to a T.V. channel
on these lines. He was quoted by a news agency as saying, "Evidence
recorded so far did not indicate any serious lapse on the part of the
police or administration in controlling the communal clashes. When there
was outcry against his statement he gave a clarification on phone to
Indian Express that "I had said that so far no serious allegation
had come on record against police and the administration during the
district level hearings." He further explained that "This
does not include the hearings conducted with regard to Godhra incident
and affidavits which have been filed before the Commission."
The Commission was appointed
on March 6, 2001 and the Commission has received so far over 3000 affidavits
from riot victims. According to news paper reports Nanavati said that
some of these affidavits included allegations against a few police officers
from some districts."
Such a statement from the
inquiring judge at an unfinished stage is quite improper. It can give
wrong impression and the accused can even treat it as a 'clean chit'
in their favour. The legal community of Gujarat was also of the opinion
that this was improper on the part of Justice Nanavati. Former chief
justice of the Gujarat High Court B.J. Diwan maintained, Nanavati should
not have made the statement.
As a retired judge of the
Supreme Court Justice Nanavati should know better that before completing
an inquiry and without thorough inquiry no such comments could be made.
It can vitiate even further findings, as victims may not come forward
to record their evidence. The victims are already under tremendous pressure
not to name anyone and if head of the Commission gives such statement
it may further put them under pressure.
The case of Best Bakery in
Baroda is quite illustrative in this
regard. The main eye- witness has gone back on her earlier statement
obviously under intense pressure and threats. According to The Indian
Express (dated 20th May, 2005) (http://www.countercurrents.org/guj-kapoor210503.htm)
"Till last Saturday every body knew Zahira Sheikh as the key witness
in the Best Bakery case. It was Vadodra's most gruesome incident in
last year's communal violence. Twelve people were burnt alive. Zahira,
an eye witness, had cried, had made loud representations and demanded
justice on several occasions. Including when the then national Human
Rights Commission Chairman Justice J.S.Verma and Chief Election Commissioner
J.M.Lyngdoh came visiting."
After turning hostile Zahira
has disappeared. She and her family
refuse to have interaction with those around them. Even her elder
sister refused to divulge where her sister is and also refuse to give
her own name. Zahira was seen with BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastav in the court
premises and this led to several eyebrows being raised. One can well
understand what was cooking and how witnesses are being pressured, lured
or threatened to weaken the cases against the accused in burning, looting
and murdering cases. In such atmosphere of fear and threat justice Nanavati's
kind of statement can further discourage key witnesses from appearing
before the commission.
It is not unknown in ordinary
murder cases how criminals exercise
intense pressure on eye- witnesses not to give witness. In this case
the whole might of state is involved and how they can threaten and pressurise
is not beyond imagination. Not that witnesses can not be found for involvement
of police and state machinery in Gujarat carnage but people in many
cases are unwilling to talk for fear of consequences.
Justice Nanavati should know
as an experienced Supreme Court judge how things work in India. He should
have also known the over all situation in Gujarat before rushing to
the press making such statement. Much has appeared in media as to what
happened in Gujarat after Godhra incident. Not one but several retired
high court and Supreme Court judges had visited Gujarat and had known
first hand about the happenings there. An expert panel of judges from
Supreme Court and high courts headed by Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer has
even prepared a comprehensive report entitled Crime against Humanity
detailing involvement of police and state machinery and the ruling party.
Justice J.S. Verma, the Chairman,
National Human Rights Commission, himself had passed severe strictures
against the State machinery and the way it handled communal violence
in Gujarat. Besides these eminent judges hundreds of eminent citizens
and concerned people had visited and prepared reports of Gujarat carnage
and complicity of state machinery. The former direct general of police,
Maharashtra and Governor of Punjab, Julio Ribeiro had strongly castigated
the Gujarat police and its role in controlling communal violence.
Mr. Ribeiro in an interview
to the Times of India dated 10/9/2002
had said, in a reply to a question "What in your opinion was the
reason for the failure of the Police in Gujarat" had said, "The
brass must take the blame. I did not sense a whiff of leadership from
top police officers. Senior officers have been reduced to mute spectators
as they have little control over the force. Generally, senior police
officers discipline errant subordinates by transferring them to insignificant
wings. But in Gujarat, officers from the subordinate ranks manipulate
all the transfers and postings at the police station level, which is
the cutting edge of the force." This speaks volumes about the role
of police in Gujarat and is quite damning for top police leadership.
He also commented in the
same interview that many people told him that the police were recording
absolutely incorrect FIRs. "I
(Ribeiro) met a respectable Hindu gentleman who said that the police
did not take down the names of the rioters he had seen and wrote that
it was a group of unidentified people. If people who have seen their
mothers and sisters raped and burnt before their eyes have no hope of
getting justice, they will all turn into terrorists and why are we talking
about ISI and Pakistan when we are doing their job for them by creating
This damning evidence of
police inaction and involvement in Gujarat carnage should have been
taken notice of by the honourable judge before he made his pre-mature
comments in the public.
Even if it is true that Justice
Nanavati had not received complaints
about police behaviour during hearings in the districts other than
Ahmedabad and Baroda, it was improper for him to comment on the role
of police and administration in a hurry. It is overall situation, which
matters, not piecemeal evidence. An 'investigator' much more a judicial
officer of highest rank, has to keep overall situation in mind before
commenting. It is also not true that there are no complaints against
police in the areas covered so far by Justice Nanavati Commission i.e.
Panchmahal district and other districts except Ahmedabad and Vadodra
where worst incidents took place.
There are serious complaints,
particularly against police in
Panchmahal and other districts also. I have myself visited these
areas and heard heart-rending stories from victims themselves and their
bitter complaints against police inaction or complicity. In the Eral
village of Panchmahal district a woman called Madina told inconsolably
how they hid in the nearby fields for two three days and then tried
to escape from there but were caught by the mob and her daughter and
niece Shabana and Suhana were raped and killed and police was no where
to be seen. They made desperate calls to the police to rescue them.
In fact her entire statement is on camera with us.
There is another heart-rending
story from Randhikpur village in
Dohad district. A woman called Bilqis aged 19 and her family sensed
danger and phoned police and got usual reply they can do nothing about
it. The family kept on hiding here and there and at last was caught
by the mob on 2nd March. Bilqis - three month pregnant was raped by
three men and taken to be dead, regained her consciousness after sometime
and survived. However, 14 members of her family were massacred and her
3 year- old child was among them.
She asked police to record
her statement but police, after
dilly-dallying recorded wrong statement and took her thumb
impression. She was suspicious and when collector visited her refugee
camp she drew his attention. Collector repremanded police and asked
them to record proper FIR and file case on the basis of second FIR.
However, meanwhile the Collector was transferred (as all good, conscientious
officers were transferred by Narnedra Modi) and police filed the case
on the basis of first FIR and destroyed the case. This too is on record
on camera with us.
How then justice Nanavati
drew his conclusion? The Asian Age also has produced in its edition
of 22nd May 2003 has reproduced under the caption "What's Nanavati
talking about? Here is proof." in original Gujarati an affidavit
filed before the Commission about the police complicity and inaction
when the mob cut off two hands of a Muslim woman. Such an attitude on
the part of inquiry commission can vitiate the whole inquiry and discourage
people from appearing before it.
The head or members of inquiry
commission should not make any public comment before the inquiry is
finally over. It is unfortunate that Justice Nanavati chose to speak
pre-mature on the subject of his inquiry thus lowering the dignity of
the commission and making people loose confidence in his impartial nature
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