By Teesta Setalvad
16 December, 2006
The challenges thrown up for
India, post-Godhra of 2002, are fundamental. Are the politically powerful,
even if they be organisers of mass murder and rape, immune from the
law? Acknowledgement of the crime is the rudimentary foundation that
begins the process of healing for the victim. That and more has been
repeatedly and crassly denied the victims. Official figures and police
records reveal that of the 413 persons who were classified as 'missing'
(bodies untraceable) after the carnage, the remains of 228 were 'not
traced'. From accounts made on oath by victim survivors of the mass
massacres - who have filed missing person complaints before the local
police in Anand, Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Panchmahals in 2002 and 2003
- there are alleged to be more illegal dumps/graves of their lost relatives.
Panchmahals was one of the
six districts targeted by militia between February 28 and March 3, 2002.
Between March 2002 and December 2005, victim survivors of the mass massacre
at Pandharwada made oral and written applications to the DIG, Vadodara,
Collector, Panchmahals, Dy SP, Godhra, Dy Collector, Lunawada, Mamlatdar
and Khanpur, urging that the remains of their lost ones be traced and
returned. It was only when there was cold silence in response that they
went digging for the remains themselves. They sought the media as an
These relatives discovered
bodies of lost ones dumped in forest wasteland off the Paanam river
outside Lunawada town on December 27 and 28, 2005. They approached the
Gujarat High Court and, for the first time in three and a half years,
got some succour. The Gujarat High Court ordered the human remains to
be sent for DNA analysis and testing to an independent laboratory in
Hyderabad under strict supervision of the Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI). This order of Justice C.K. Buch had observed that if, after analysis,
even a single body was found unidentified, a fresh case existed and
scope for a de novo qua investigation was made out.
In May 2005, the CBI submitted
the analysis to the Gujarat High Court. Victims were denied a copy of
this report despite repeated pleas, while the Gujarat state accessed
a copy. On December 6, 2006, the state appeared to be in an unholy hurry
to get the matter disposed of. The victim survivors who had approached
the court in the first place weren't given the report and hence, no
chance to reply. Despite this, the report did become public and about
nine body remains appeared to match with the samples of relatives of
the Pandharwada massacre. Eleven remain unidentified. The matter was
taken up for final hearing just two days later.
There was scope for fresh
investigation by the CBI, given the findings of the Hyderabad laboratory.
It was predictable that the Gujarat government was adamant in opposing
the court's finding in December 2005. But the counsel for the CBI remained
unmoved by the pleas of the victim survivors on December 8, 2006. In
effect, the CBI indirectly supported the stand of the Gujarat government
- a fact that has been recorded by the judge in his oral order.
The advocate for the victim
survivors argued vehemently and at length (it is a tribute to secularism
that our finest legal minds have given pro bono services to victims
of the Gujarat genocide) that the entire matter of illegally dumping
these bodies needed to be investigated afresh by the CBI. The victim
survivors and co-petitioners had, in the one year since the unfurling
of this tragedy, filed 600 pages of affidavits to substantiate their
Laboriously, they had pointed
out that the son of the petitioner, Ameenabehn Rasool, was found with
his skeletal remains, bearing the tattered bits of the same cloth in
which he had been killed. This indicated that post-mortem and other
procedures had not been followed by the police. The state's bias was
evident again when it was pointed out that while the identified remains
of Godhra arson survivors were kept in the public morgue for five months,
these victims were unceremoniously dumped in wastelands off the Paanam
river within three days, despite the fact that a 300-acre graveyard
belonging to different sects of the minority community existed within
Lunawada town, barely a few kilometres away.
If the state, burdened with
the unidentified and gory remains of murdered victims, had applied just
principles of disposal, they would have handed over the bodies - unidentified
- to local clergy to perform the last rites in 2002 itself. Not only
was this not done but victim survivors and human rights defenders who
have assisted the nlegal struggle since December 2005, have been hounded
by the local police with a false FIR being made out against them. They
have all had to seek anticipatory bail.
Today, the struggle against
lived fascism in Gujarat has been reduced to a rigorously fought legal
battle for constitutional governance by victim survivors and civil society.
The dominant political class that uses secularism to win elections has
not merely kept a distance. When it comes to punishment to the guilty
of 2002, the government has lost much of its 2004 pre-election bite.
Is it uncomfortable with the justice being done today? Or is this because
it has bloodied its own hands in the past? And, therefore, wishes that
the unchallenged state of impunity to perpetrators of mass crimes continues
unaddressed into a bleak future?
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