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Best Bakery Was 37th Riot Acquittal

By Leena Misra

Times News Network
12 July, 2003

AHMEDABAD: Imtiaz Khan (26) lost most of his family in the Gulbarg society massacre, where 42 persons, including Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, were killed by a mob after the Godhra incident.

After the Best Bakery verdict, he is afraid to answer his cell-phone.

His friend answers his calls, screens the caller thoroughly and only when assured it is not someone from the VHP or Bajrang Dal, does he hand over the phone to Khan. Such is the fear among the victims who have still to testify in cases which are yet to come up for trial.

What many do not know about the infamous Best Bakery case is that it was the 37th of the post-Godhra riot cases in Gujarat where the accused were acquitted after trials. The Bakery case just got famous because it was one of the five massacres picked by the NHRC to be probed by the CBI.

However, there have already been 36 riot cases where trials have been conducted and the accused were acquitted since the witnesses either did not turn up or they turned hostile.

When TNN finally got through to Imtiaz Khan, he was still wary, "We have been asked not to speak to anyone, they could be from the VHP, who knows?" he says. Only when assured, does he manage to say, "We are all strong and will stand by our statements, none of us will retract our statements."

But not all are hopeful. At least not the chairman of the Gulbarg Society — Yusuf Patel who moved to Gandhinagar on February 27 last year, a day before the massacre.

"Our people too have been threatened and this case too might go the Bakery way," he says.

The more striking among the acquittals is that of the Limbadiya chowk massacre, where some 34 persons were allegedly burnt alive in Panchmahals and where the prime accused was Kalu Maliwad who was acquitted just before the assembly elections.

Maliwad went on to represent the Lunawada constituency in Panchmahals as a BJP MLA and is said to have enthralled crowds during his election campaign with statements like, "I went to jail for all of you."

Maliwad was also the prime accused in the Kidiyad massacre of Panchmahals where some 73 persons were allegedly burnt alive on March 2 last year. "Most of the trials were conducted in fast-track courts in the district where all the accused were acquitted," said a source.

In fact, most of the witnesses did not even dare to testify before the court and did not turn up at all in the Limbadiya case. And 90 per cent of the 23,000 arrested are out on bail, another reason for the victims to be scared.

Of the 4,252 cases that were filed between February and May 2002, 2,032 cases were disposed of by the police because there was no evidence to establish their culpability, while in 21 cases the complaints were found to be baseless.