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Nanavati Commission Boycott

By Digant Oza and Nachiketa Desai

Sahara time, India
03 August , 2003

A feeling of despondency prevailed among social and human
rights activists as Muslim riot victims boycotted the judicial
commission inquiring the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat. The riot
victims feared reprisal from the perpetrators of carnage if they
exposed themselves by speaking out the truth while deposing before
Justice G T Nanavati and Justice K G Shah who concluded the first
round of hearing in the worst-effected Ahmedabad city on Tuesday
(July 22).

Only one witness, Dr. Yunus Bhavnagari, made a sensational revelation
when he accused former state revenue minister Haren Pandya (later
slain by some unknown assassins) of having led the attack on the
Muslims in the posh Paldi area of the city last year. Most other
witnesses either did not turn up or parroted the well-rehearsed "all
was well with the police" when Gujarat was on fire line of the
Narendra Modi government.

"Despite our all out efforts to mobilize witnesses to depose before
the commission, very few had the courage to come out as they feared
for their life. The Muslims have come to the grim realization that
they are at the mercy of the police and goons of the saffron brigade.
Then, there is also this realization that the judicial commission is
toothless, without the powers to punish the guilty," said Dr. Hanif
Lakdawala of Sanchetna, a human rights organization.

The police and those accused of arson, loot and murder, on the other
hand, goaded dozens of people to depose before the commission. Their
common refrain was that there was no breakdown of law and order
during the 'Gujarat Bandh' call given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
and the Bharatiya Janata Party on February 28 to protest the killing
of 58 Kar Sevaks near the Godhra railway station.

That these witnesses were well-tutored by the police got exposed
before the commission on the last day of the first phase hearing when
one of the witnesses, when cross examined, said he had come to depose
at the behest of the staff of the Madhavpura police station.
Virtually giving a certificate of 'efficiency and high level of
commitment to duty', a resident of Madhavpura, Pratapji Thakore said,
"The policemen worked round the clock to provide security to the
people." Thakore happens to be a government employee.

Their curiosity having been aroused about such an unusual statement,
Justice Shah asked the witness as to who had asked him to come to
depose before the commission. "The policemen from my area had come to
tell us to depose before the commission," Thakore replied candidly.
The court burst into laughter.

While human rights and social activists could not much succeed in
instilling courage among the riot victims to come in large numbers
before the commission and narrate eyewitness accounts of the gory
violence they had been subjected to during the anti-Muslim pogrom,
BJP and VHP workers turned up in large numbers to give their
depositions. In a frontal attack on the Congress, former municipal
corporator Kamal Kamalkar of the BJP stated that persons armed with
swords and other lethal weapons had come in a vehicle bearing the tag
of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to Shahpur and killed one person.

In the same deposition, Kamalkar was all praise for the police.
Despite over 100 cases of rioting registered by the Madhavpura police
station during the post-Godhra violence, all the 151 witnesses,
except a Muslim woman, claimed before the commission that peace had
prevailed in their area and that the police deserved a pat for
performing their duty well.

"If this is the trend of hearing before a toothless commission, one
can very well imagine how the hearings by the various trial courts
that are to decide the cases related to serious crimes committed
during last year's violence must be proceeding," said Digant Oza of
the Citizen's Initiative, a state-level network of human rights

In the much-publicized Best Bakery case, the session's court of
Baroda had acquitted all the 21 accused of burning alive 14 persons
after all the key witnesses had turned hostile allegedly under the
duress of BJP strongman and MLA Madhu Srivastava. The National Human
Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Justice A S Anand had described the
judgment as 'miscarriage of justice' and sought reopening of the case.

In as many as 37 other cases of serious crime, including the one
related to the burning alive of 70 Muslims in Sabarkantha district,
all the accused were acquitted by the court for want of evidence. Not
only were the witnesses turned hostile in these cases, but the public
prosecutors too did not perform their duty, alleged Mr. Oza.

In a memorandum to the NHRC, a delegation of state-level NGOs from
Gujarat has pointed out that the state government has appointed as
public prosecutors Hindu fundamentalist lawyers with strong links to
the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The NHRC's attention was drawn to the fact that Arun D Oza, who had
contested the assembly election as a BJP candidate was appointed
government pleader and public prosecutor. Similarly, in the city
civil court at Ahmedabad, known BJP/RSS workers Sudhir Brahmabhatt,
Labhubhai Patel, Deepak Sharma, Mahesh Patel and Rajesh Modi were
appointed additional public prosecutors. In the district court of
Ahmedabad, government pleader Anil Patel has been appointed the
government pleader. Similarly, in the district court of Mehsana,
Dilip Trivedi, the joint secretary of the VHP's state unit, has been
appointed a government pleader.

The network of state-level NGOs has demanded dismissal of these
public prosecutors and government pleaders and their trial for not
having performed their duty in accordance with the law.