In the latest development concerning the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in the Indian state of Gujarat on the watch of the then chief minister Narendra Modi, a special court convicted 24 persons, 11 for murder and 13 rioting.
More than 1000 people, almost all of them Muslims, were brutally murdered, women raped and Muslim homes, business and mosques destroyed.
Notably, the trial began in 2009 on the orders of the Supreme Court for reinvestigation into some of the worst incidents, including one at Naroda Patiya where more than 90 people were killed and the other in a Muslim housing complex where many people had taken refuge at the home of a former Congress Party MP, Ehsan Jafri.
It may be recalled that back in 2012 also a BJP legislator Maya Kodnani (though later released on bail using the pretext of health problems), and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others were jailed for their role in the massacre.
Yet in line with the previous judicial attempts to de-emphasise the angle of religious hatred, the court ruled that the massacre “was not a pre-planned conspiracy.”
There is enough evidence to show it was a premeditated massacre. Media reports at the time said the police looked on as passive bystanders whilst hordes of Hindu militants hacked people to death set children afire and raped women.
Uncontested reports also say when a Hindu mob arrived at Jafri’s residence, he called several influential people, and the police station was not very far from his home. Yet no one came to his help during more than six hours of a killing spree at his place that left 69 people brutally murdered.
Jafri himself was hacked to pieces and his body burned. This could not have happened without pre-planning and the chief minister’s connivance. In fact in a sworn statement he gave before the Supreme Court, a senior police officer, Sanjiv Bhat, said he had attended a meeting where Modi said that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger. Subsequent events and the fact that Modi rewarded Maya Kodnani – known to have led the massacre – with a cabinet position, amply substantiate Sanjiv Bhatt’s statement. The verdict seems to be deliberately timed to help Modi.
A press report points out that the case, hanging fire since it was grudgingly committed for trial years after the 2002 massacre, came at a time Modi was preparing for a visit to the US where only a few days ago several senators had slammed India’s rights record; and aside from meeting with president Barack Obama he is to address a joint session of the Congress.
In other words, it is aimed at giving Modi a clean chit to make things easier for him even though during the visit his hosts would be thinking more about practical than moral considerations.
Ehsan Jafri’s widow, while expressing satisfaction over the conviction of 24 accused, described exoneration of 36 others as ‘incomplete justice.’ Not surprising, rights groups in India have rejected the latest court verdict and are reported to be set to go into appeal.
But considering how the case has dragged on and the chief suspect absolved of any guilt, there is little hope that the victims’ families will ever see justice served.