THEMES

Godhra re-visited October - 2003
October 1, 2003
Godhra re-visited October - 2003
Godhra revisited
 

The burning alive of 59 passengers in coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002 was used to justify genocidal violence against Gujarat’s Muslims. Now, 19 months later, families of the victims of the gruesome tragedy in Godhra complain that they, too, were taken for a nasty ride by the very leaders who pretended to be their
saviours
 

It was on Dussera day, October 5, 2003, that four families who had lost their wives and mothers in the mass burning inside coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27 last year, made their pilgrimage for justice to Mumbai. Addressing a packed press conference in the metropolis the same evening, they told the country of the cynical way in which they had been made unwitting pawns in the politics of hatred. (On being approached by family members of the Godhra victims, the Mumbai-based Citizens for Justice and Peace had promised legal help to them, just as it had earlier extended support to Zahira Shaikh and her family in the Best Bakery massacre case).
 

Suddenly, the images of the charred and burnt bodies of the passengers in that hapless coach, images that have been played and re-played over the past 19 months, became real and approachable once again, as grief-stricken and broken families spoke out bravely against their political manipulation. Their determination to risk the wrath of the political masters in Gujarat, to take such a stand even while they would continue to live in Ahmedabad, above all, to petition the Supreme Court of India for a transfer of the Godhra trial along with the retrial/trial of the Best Bakery and other key cases outside the state is itself a measure of the strength of their convictions.
 

Their demand for a trial of the Godhra case also outside the state became stronger after some of them had been physically prevented from giving an honest testimony before the Nanavati-Shah Commission on September 18-19. Before their travel to Mumbai, local members of the VHP had tried to threaten and cajole them against their decision to seek the CJP’s help. But they were determined to come. And courageous too.
 

Through the mass media, they also appealed for an immediate end to yatra politics, cautioned their country men and women against being drawn to such programmes and demanded an inquiry into the collection of huge funds in the name of the Godhra victims by the sangh combine.
 

Dr. Girishbhai Rawal, 82-years-old, is a singularly brave man. Sudhabehn (76), his wife died a horrible death in Godhra, by burning and asphyxiation. "When you are young, there is romance and desire," he told me, "but when you reach our age there is something more precious. There is harmony and sharing. I have lost the harmony of my existence," he said, as tears rolled down his weathered cheeks for the first time.
 

Girishbhai faced a second tragedy soon after losing his precious Sudhabehn. On April 16, 2002, he lost his 42 year old son Ashwinbhai Rawal. Ashwinbhai, the local Bajrang Dal chief, was stabbed to death in a communal killing in Ramol. Repeated appeals by local residents to the state and city police to put up an effective police chowkey in the area had gone unheeded.
 

Before her tragic death, Sudhabehn was associated with the Khoja Council of the Aga Khan Foundation, working with children of all faiths. Neither she, nor her husband, nor her 18-year-old grand-daughter, Khushboo, nor her widowed daughter-in-law, Belabehn, ever shared the hatred and venom that the VHP-BJP-RSS-BD brand of politics espouses.
 

Khushboo brought tears to many eyes during the press meet in Mumbai when she said without a trace of artifice, "My father was drawn to the politics of Hindutva. But none of the rest of our family is enamoured of it. The building of the Ram temple is not as important as communal harmony and peace. The coming yatra must be stopped. People must realise that there is only death, destruction and violence after such activities."
 

Dr Rawal, in his cogent and articulate affidavit filed in the Supreme Court of India, has clearly stated that the failure of the VHP-BJP to bring back the yatris safely had to do with the intemperate and abusive behaviour of the kar sevaks on their way to, and while returning from, Faizabad-Ayodhya. He has also clearly stated that under the current regime in Gujarat, the chances of free and fair investigation and trial are remote; unless the trials are shifted outside of Gujarat, justice will not be done.
 

No honest inquiry into the tragedy is taking place, the reports of forensic experts who have stated that 60 litres of inflammable liquid simply could not have been flung from outside into the compartment given the topography of the area, are being buried and denied, the affidavit has said. "We have been used; Godhra has been used to justify violence against our own people in every nook and corner. Is this Hinduism? It is not. I feel ashamed."


From Left to Right: Bharatbhai Panchal with daughter Shefali in front; Belabehn Rawal, Dr. Girishbhai Rawal; Khushboo Rawal with Prakashbhai Chodagar behind; Sharadbhai Mhatre. In front row, Dhawal and Harsh

The families of Dr Girishbhai Rawal, Sharadbhai Mhatre, Bharatbhai Panchal and Prakashbhai Chodagar all lived in Janata Nagar, Ramol, a communally sensitive area of Ahmedabad city. Each family has lost a female member.
 

Sudhabehn, Malabehn, Jyotibehn and Nilimabehn (Amibehn) were religious-minded, mutual friends. None was a member of the VHP-BD or the BJP. They had simply been attending the VHP-organised satsanghs every Saturday in their housing society and who felt that the VHP’s plan to take people to Ayodhya offered them the chance of a free religious pilgrimage; that too in each other’s company. Neetabehn Panchal, a leader of the Durga Vahini, was instrumental in enthusing them for the yatra from which they never returned. In all, 10 women from Janata Nagar died in the mass arson.
 

Sharadbhai had been reluctant to let his wife undertake the journey to Ayodhya. But with a chance to make a religious pilgrimage, that too with close friends like Jyotibehn and Amibehn, she was adamant. He now has two children to raise without a mother.
 

"We realise now how we and others have been made pawns in the VHP and BJP game. They say things, use abusive and offensive language. This upsets the tranquillity of local areas and people get fooled and drawn to this. I have plied rickshaws for a living for years but never thought about the religion of my passengers. They say such things to trap people into joining them. That is all," says an angry Bharatbhai, who now faces the task of bringing up 16-year-old Shefali and his younger son, Dhawal, all alone. Bharatbhai is suspicious about why none of the leaders of the BJP and VHP, who had encouraged innocent believers to make the yatra and accompanied them, suffered any injury on that fateful day.
 

"For years, Hindu and Muslim children, as also little ones of other faiths, have always been ferried by us in our rickshaws to and from school. This was true about Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat. But today’s Gujarat is no longer the Gujarat we had known and lived in. Never before has Gujarat been so demeaned as by this regime. There is distance and hatred everywhere. Is this the way to treat our own people? Cutting up people, burning and killing them? As Gujaratis, how can we be proud of what happened to young girls and women in Gulberg society, in Naroda Pattiya?" These are the words of Prakashbhai, simple and reticent, but clear and firm in his convictions.
 

The clear-cut prayers of these families in their appeals to the Supreme Court are:

  • A ban on future Ayodhya yatras, especially the one planned from October 15, 2003. (The appeal was filed before that date);
  • Adequate reparation and compensation – material, psychological and physical – to all victims of the Godhra and post-Godhra violence, from the VHP, BJP, Gujarat government and railway ministry, irrespective of caste, creed and community and with total impartiality;
  • Investigation into the source of funds and their utilisation by the VHP and the BJP received in the name of the Godhra victims;
  • The immediate transfer of the Godhra inquiry, as also inquiries into the Naroda Pattiya, Gulberg and other major massacres, outside Gujarat and conducted in the immediate vicinity of the Supreme Court.

For over five-six months before the press conference in Mumbai, I, as a CJP representative, had met members of the aggrieved families to share their pain and sorrow. In the process, I developed an understanding of how simple and religious-minded Hindus were mobilized and how thereafter the tragedy itself and the trauma of the families of the deceased was cynically manipulated by the VHP-BJP-BD-RSS combine to justify the ‘retaliatory’ carnage that was orchestrated in Gujarat last year.
 

Listening to each one of them accounts reveals a tale of the cynical manipulation of basically good and honest people for a sinister political scheme that feeds on their individual loss, pain and suffering to conjure up an imagery of the perpetual victim (Hindu) of (Muslim) violence. The testimonies of the aggrieved families of the Godhra burning, contrast sharply with the utterances of saffron leaders on Godhra. There was pain, grief and sorrow in their accounts over the deaths of their near and dear ones. But there was no trace of hatred, no suggestion of ‘revenge’ against the entire community of Muslims. In fact they were categorical that the torching of the train at Godhra was the work of anti-socials who must be caught and severely punished but for which all Muslims must not be blamed.


This in sharp contrast to what VHP leader Togadia said in an interview to the Gujarati weekly, Hotline on March 2: "This has never happened in the history of independent India. Hindu society will avenge the Godhra killings. Muslims should accept the fact that Hindus are not wearing bangles. We will respond vigorously to all such incidents". It even stands in sharp contrast to Vajpayee’s speech in Goa in April: "Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others (who practise different faiths). Instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others.’’


The tragedy took place between 8 and 8.20 a.m. on February 27. The official version until 7 p.m. that day called the tragedy an "accident". In his official statement on the incident in Parliament at 2 p.m., Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee also described the tragedy as an accident. The collector of Panchmahal district, Ms Jayanti Ravi had maintained the same view throughout the day.


It was only after 7 p.m. that evening that Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, began looking at the ‘ISI-conspiracy in Godhra’ theory. This was all that was needed to launch what was obviously a carefully orchestrated genocide in at least 16 of the 24 districts of the state. Thereafter, the image of the burnt S-6 coach and the bodies within were used and reused for mass mobilization, especially to harvest votes in the Gujarat state elections.


The way the Godhra inquiry is being conducted is in itself reason for the apex court to intervene and examine events. Dozens of people are arrested under POTA which was not even in force on the day of the tragedy. The Act, notified for Gujarat only the day after the tragedy, cannot be invoked against the Godhra accused.


Blatantly illegal methods of detention and injection of serum for questioning have been used by the authorities investigating the Godhra incident. Instead of keeping aloof from the investigation, the prosecution (the state of Gujarat) appears to be dictating the conduct of investigations (see accompanying story).


The family members of the Godhra victims are today openly challenging the calculated manipulation of the death of their near and dear ones to justify the massacre of a few thousand innocents. Their voices force us to re-visit Godhra and reflect on the tragedy that not only took 59 innocent lives, but was also used to butcher another 2,500 innocents. In the seemingly pointless cycles of violence and counter-violence that threaten peace today, voices such as these, if heeded, may help us reverse this cycle. For that to happen, however, enough of us have to be listening. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2003. Year 10, No. 92, Cover Story 1
 

The Long road to justice
 


The interventions of the Supreme Court in the Best Bakery case so far have rejuvenated faith in the institutions of Indian democracy. But reparations for the genocide in Gujarat, punishment of the perpetrators and masterminds of mass violence and the putting in place of institutional safeguards against future crimes against humanity are not yet in sight

 

Nearly 19 months after the genocidal violence that rocked the western Indian state of Gujarat, searing questions that the tragedies have raised related to justice and rehabilitation remain completely unanswered. Issues of state accountability in instances of mass violence, independent policing, adequate reparation and the response of democratic institutions such as the judiciary to such crimes hang suspended in mid-air, as the proverbial shortness of public memory hampers the best efforts to keep some of these issues alive.
 

What happened after Gujarat 2002? The voluminous report of a Concerned Citizens Tribunal comprising of senior jurists and other prominent citizens recommended, among other things, the establishment of a Statutory National Crimes Tribunal that must evolve a new jurisprudence drawn from the International Law on genocide.1  It also argued for urgent reforms in the Indian police force. Drastic reforms in the Indian police system that included independence of the law and order machinery, and ensured representation and diversity had also been recommended as far back as 1981 by the officially-appointed National Police Commission.
 

Today, judicial matters related to the genocidal violence in Gujarat have been brought centre-stage through two pivotal cases currently being heard in the Supreme Court. The fact that this has happened at all is due in large measure to the initiatives taken by the statutory National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) since the justice process in the state was systematically de-railed.3  This has been backed by a gritty Mumbai-based citizens group, Citizens for Justice and Peace, that has set for itself the task of continuing the struggle for justice and reparation for the victim survivors, however tough or tortuous this effort may be.
 

Efforts are alive through these judicial interventions to move the criminal trials of the worst carnages outside the state of Gujarat.The argument for turning over both the investigation and conduct of the criminal inquiries to an area outside the control of chief minister Narendra Modi and the state administration under him has been made since the start of the carnage last year, both by the NHRC (April 2002), as also through several public interest litigations filed in the Supreme Court in April 2002 itself.5  If these had been heard judiciously and promptly by the apex court when it was first approached last year, concerns related to the utterly subverted and paralysed local atmosphere in the state of Gujarat would have been met and more promptly answered.
 

Unfortunately, the judicial record in dealing with such mass community-driven carnages remains pathetic. Sikh widow survivors of the 1984 pogrom against their community in the country’s capital following the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards continue the battle in vain for justice that evades them even 19 years later6 .
 

Similarly, Muslim family members of the 53 young males shot dead in cold blood in Meerut-Hashimpura, a town in western Uttar Pradesh, in 1989 still hope that justice will be done7 .
 

The recent conviction of Dara Singh and associates for the burning alive of Christian pastor Graham Staines and his two sons in January 1999 in Orissa is a rare case of a sessions court punishing those guilty of communally driven crimes.
 

Most pertinently, the attempts of these and many more such survivors to see justice done decades after the crime are living testimonies to the fact that human beings need to believe and find justice for unspeakable crimes before peace and reconciliation can be brought about. A failure to respond to this cry for justice renders a system vulnerable; torn from within by festering wounds and hurts that do not heal but in fact create their attendant aberrations. This is the unfortunate reality in India today.
 

The sensation created by young Zahira Shaikh’s brave admissions at a press conference in Mumbai (July 7, 2003) recounting the threats, intimidation and manipulation that she and her family was subjected to and that resulted in the witnesses lying in court and the acquittal of all the accused, propelled the NHRC into appealing to the Supreme Court of India for a retrial of the Best Bakery case outside Gujarat. This was a rare step taken by the NHRC. (see CC, July 2003).
 

Though fact-finding reports and media exposures had dealt with political manipulation by the Modi government in its dealings with the police and the appointment of pliant public prosecutors, it was only after the Best Bakery issue brought matters centre-stage that their conduct has begun to be closely scrutinised.
 

In another related matter taken up by the NHRC, Bilkees Yakoob Rasool, a victim of sexual violence, was given special legal assistance when the NHRC referred her case to prominent lawyer Harish Salve. Here, too, the SC issued notice to the Gujarat government, pulling up the state police for improper investigations. This is one of the rare cases of an FIR being registered in the matter of sexual assault and violence in Gujarat. Over 150 such cases have been reported but these crimes do not even figure in police records.
 

Not merely that. Nine other ongoing investigations and trials, including the Godhra investigation, are also marked by similar threats and intimidation of witnesses and subversion of evidence. In the Ode (Anand district) trial where over 23 persons were massacred, key eye-witnesses have not been examined.

The Best Bakery case apart, in the nine other major carnages where the judicial process is still on, the subversive manner of investigation and the continuing threats and intimidation of witnesses bode ill for the process of justice. 
 

In the Gulberg society massacre, it was only after the outrage generated by the Best Bakery case that the repeated complaints of eye-witnesses about threats and intimidation by the Ahmedabad city crime branch have been taken seriously.8 

Since November 2002, witnesses in the Gulberg case have been petitioning and making written applications for proper investigations, also complaining that proper statements have not been recorded. There is no response from the authorities and the matter keeps getting adjourned.
 

In short, the Best Bakery case apart, in the nine other major carnages where the judicial process is still on, the subversive manner of investigation and the continuing threats and intimidation of witnesses bode ill for the process of justice.9  These issues were comprehensively brought up before the apex court during the last hearing on October 17, 2003 and the Gujarat government has finally been forced to respond to them substantially.
 

Despite being severely exposed in the public eye in the Best Bakery incident, the Gujarat government waited until after the NHRC had moved the Supreme Court of India (August 1, 2003) before it filed an appeal against the acquittals in the sessions court in Vadodara (August 7, 2003). In between, on August 5, 2003, the Gujarat Bar Association passed a unanimous requisition against the NHRC’s moving the SC and demanded that the former withdraw its special leave petition! The frivolous nature of the appeal that did not even make the prayer for a re-trial led Chief Justice VN Khare to pass severe oral strictures against the government on September 12. Clearly this appeal in the High Court was being used as a tactical ploy to limit the SC’s interventions. During the hearing on October 9, the SC appointed senior counsel and former solicitor general of India, Harish Salve, as amicus curae (friend of the court) to assist the court on the points that had arisen.
 

During this ongoing battle two affidavits were filed by the Teesta Setalvad of the CJP. The astounding facts contained in them made Salve point these out to the court on October 17. While one related to the highly suspect nature of the ongoing investigations in nine major massacres, the other related to three major carnages in which acquittals had taken place in October 2002 and yet the state of Gujarat had not even appealed against these judgements.
 

In what were clearly three of the worst carnages—87 persons were burnt alive in the Limadiya Chowkey, Kidiad, incident, while over 70 persons were butchered and burned in two separate carnages in Pandharwada village, Panchmahal district—the Gujarat government effectively ensured acquittals of all the accused, through the appointment of public prosecutors with questionable political backgrounds and wilfully negligent investigations.
 

In all three instances, senior and elected functionaries of the BJP are indicted as accused. (In the Kidiad incident, the elected BJP MLA, Kalubhai Hirabhai Maliwad has been named as the main mastermind of the massacre).10  The malafide intent of the state can be gauged from the fact that no appeals have been filed by the Gujarat government for over a year.
 

The conduct, or misconduct, of the Gujarat government has been brought centre-stage before the Supreme Court, through the NHRC’s writ petition and transfer petition, and the special leave petition and impleadment applications filed by the CJP. It is to be hoped that when the apex court begins to deal with the issues raised in these and related matters, a comprehensive look and intervention of the consequences of the state-wide genocide becomes possible.
 

Without this, the struggle for justice to the victim-survivors of the Gujarat genocide remains narrowed down today. The weight of the system being battled against places the painful choice before the petitioners of picking and choosing the cases even in their struggle for justice. With the magnitude of what happened in Gujarat receding from public memory; the legal battles being waged today are constrained to be limited to getting justice for only those victim-survivors of the carnage where over a dozen persons were butchered and slaughtered.
 

What of the individual innocent victims, such as minors who were shot dead by an unaccountable police? What of the girls and women who were killed after brutal sexual violence? What about those who somehow survived and are now forced to live in the same villages where the crimes were committed?11 

Courtesy: indiatoday.in
 

What of the 10,000-odd homes that were destroyed so thoroughly that the pathetic Rs 5,000–Rs 40,000 paid in compensation – that too, only to a fortunate few – is barely enough to pick up the threads and start living again? What about the reparation for the businesses destroyed and the agricultural lands seized? Despite the fact that the Prime Minister had announced Rs 150 crore in central aid for victim survivors, the Gujarat government remains adamant in not even disbursing the available, though highly insufficient funds.12 
 

No less than 1,16,000 persons were internal refugees, thrown out of home and hearth, living in relief camps for over seven months last year. During this period, the Gujarat government refused to give them food, water and medicines despite their constitutional obligation to bear the cost of this internal displacement. Here again, it took legal interventions in the Gujarat High Court before the government was forced to act. Two writ petitions were supported by CJP, which included flying down a senior lawyer from Mumbai since the atmosphere was so communally surcharged in the state that few wanted to appear in defence of victims from the minority community!13  As a result of this legal intervention, at least Rs 10 crore had to be paid out from the State government coffers to the relief camp organisers.
 

It was the incident of the mass burning of 58 passengers on board the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express, returning from the temple town of Ayodhya, which was used to justify the mass crimes committed in the state-wide carnage that claimed no less than 2,500 lives and economically and culturally crippled the Muslim minority. (The economic loss to the community was estimated at no less than Rs 4,000 crore and this did not include irreparable damage to or loss of homes and agricultural lands that have been usurped after Muslims fled the villages where they were a small minority).
 

The reason that the well-tested term genocide was used by us14  and later the Concerned Citizens Tribunal to sum up what happened in Gujarat was because these and other jurisprudentially tested criteria for genocide were evident in the crimes against humanity in Gujarat. No less than 200-300 Muslim women were subjected to brutal sexual violence and no less that 270 mosques and durgahs (religious and religio-cultural shrines) were desecrated and then destroyed.
 

The calculated and state-sponsored attempt to ravage the dignity of a community was evident. Article 2 c) of the UN convention on genocide specifies – "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Therefore, the fact that every single Muslim was not forced to flee for threat of slaughter (sic) is no defence against the genocide charge, as attempted both by the Gujarat chief minister and his close supporters among the top echelons of the BJP leadership in New Delhi that leads the National Democratic Alliance government.
 

Hate speech and hate writing not merely preceded the carnage but actually made the carnage possible. The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was preceded for some months by the systematic distribution of poisonous material, some anonymous, that systematically spewed hatred and venom against the Muslim minority in the state. Even during the orgy of violence, thousands of these pamphlets could be found. Some advocating systematic economic boycott of Muslims even carried the address of an office of the VHP15 . Others that were even more graphic and vicious advocated mutilation and rape.16 

The issue of hate speech and its intent, and the non-prosecution of offenders, is the subject matter of one of the writ petitions filed in the apex court. Speeches made by Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi and the VHP’s working president, Ashok Singhal, were brought to the attention of the court. As is only to be expected, no FIRs have been registered or investigations launched against either of the two personalities. The attitude of our authorities and democratic institutions to the abuse of freedom and perpetration of hate speech has become pivotal in the struggle for a peaceful and sane polity.17 
 

Many of these issues will remain alive as the battle continues in the Supreme Court for justice. The petitioners will try their best to ensure that various aspects of the state-sponsored genocide get addressed by the Supreme Court of India. Many hopes have been raised by the proceedings so far. It is to be hoped that the institutions of democratic India will live up to them.


Refrences

 1 Crimes Against Humanity, Volume II, Long Term Recommendations – Concerned Citizens Tribunal Report; Tribunal headed by Justice VR Krishna Iyer and with members like Justice PB Sawant, Justice Hosbet Suresh, KG Kannabiran, KS Subramaniam, Aruna Roy, Tanika Sarkar, and Ghanshyam Shah.

 2 Ibid; section on Recommendations—Police

 3 NHRC Report and Recommendations during and after last year’s carnage in Gujarat proved particularly embarrassing for the State

 4 Plea in the SLP filed by the NHRC, dated August 1, 2003 and the SLP(Criminal) filed by CJP, Teesta Setalvad and Zahira Shaikh dated August 8, 2003 in the Supreme Court of India

 5 Two petitions filed by DN Pathak and others and Mallika Sarabhai and others prayed for the transfer of key cases to the CBI and Investigations in these through this Independent agency

 6 Darpan Kaur, a Sikh widow who lost 12 family members and even filed a First Information Report with the police against former Congress minister HKL Bhagat was first offered a bribe of Rs 25 lakhs and when she refused, was even beaten brutally. She has refused to give in.

 7 The FIR in this crime was filed by a police officer of the rank of SP in his own name, Vibhuti Narain Rai who today is the IG of Uttar Pradesh

 8 Affidavits filed by witnesses in the Supreme Court give details of this

 9 Second affidavit filed in the SC by Teesta Setalvad on October 17, 2003 enlists the details

 10 Teesta Setalvad’s affidavit, as Secretary CJP, in the Supreme Court of India which was mentioned by amicus curae, Harish Salve and to which the Gujarat government have been directed to file a reply by October 31, 2003

 11 CCT, Volume II, Short Term Recommendations of Reparation, Relief and Rehabilitation

 12 A pending PIL filed by Vijay Tendulkar of the CJP demands an account of the fund disbursal and the establishment of a joint committee to monitor funds and their distribution. This is still pending.

 13 Aspi Chinoy along with Suhel Tirmizi argued the matter for over five hours before the Judge actually appointed a committee and thereafter passed orders that made the state government liable to make good the damages to the organisers of relief camps.

 14 Communalism Combat’s special issue was entitled Gujarat genocide 2002, March-April 2002

 15 Pamphlet Poison, Gujarat Genocide 2002, Communalism Combat March-April 2002

 16 Ibid

 17 The criminal writ petition against Narendra Modi and Ashok Singhal has been filed by Alyque Padamsee, Valjibhai Patel, BG Verghese and Teesta Setalvad and is still pending.


Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2003. Year 10, No. 92, Cover Story 2
 

Godhra: Who’s afraid of facing facts?

Shubradeep Chakrovarty
 
Why is the VHP so disturbed by my film Godhra Tak—The Terror Trail? asks independent film-maker Shubradeep Chakrovarty, who had to face saffron wrath when he organised a press screening of his film in Ahmedabad recently.

"There is no previous video documentation of the trail of terror, of the behaviour of the kar sevaks to and from Faizabad. In this documentary, I tried to follow the entire route of the first batch of kar sevaks from Gujarat to Ayodhya and back. We documented the terror unleashed by them en route and also the incidents at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002.
 

"In fact, one of the kar sevaks, Maheshbhai Jayantilal Shah, admits on camera that kar sevaks misbehaved at Rudauli and that their subsequent behaviour at Godhra was provocative. Maheshbhai is not any kar sevak. His name is in the list of witnesses produced by the prosecution and therefore he cannot be disowned. The kar sevaks’ misconduct is all documented in the video format, including the stabbings by kar sevaks at Vadodara after the Godhra tragedy. Visual documentation cannot be denied, it has its own power and reach and this is what disturbs the VHP.
 

"The Godhra incident itself has been scientifically de-constructed in the film. Dr VN Sehgal, who was professionally engaged by me to investigate the topography, build-up, scientific details of the Godhra incident, is a top-rate professional. He is former director, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Delhi and a member of Interpol. In the film, I explored with him the merits of the conspiracy theory given by the prosecution and VHP alike.
 

"Dr Sehgal demonstrates in elaborate detail how it was physically impossible for 60 litres of inflammable liquid, necessary for a fire of this intensity, to have been flung by the crowd of Muslims gathered around Signal Falia where the train had stopped. (Incidentally, the Ahmedabad-based Forensic Science Laboratory had also reached a similar conclusion earlier). He also explains that the nature of the fire suggested that it was caused by petrol and that this petrol was stored between seats 46 and 72 of the compartment since that portion of the compartment floor is badly gutted. Why petrol was being transported at all is a question that remains unanswered".
 

Incidentally, the one-hour film also has interviews with Praveen Togadia, (international general secretary, VHP), Vinay Katiyar (BJP president, UP) and Dr. Jaydeep Patel (general secretary, VHP Gujarat) and kar sevaks.
 

After completing the film, Chakrovarty held private screenings in Delhi and also at the recent South Asia Film Festival in Kathmandu. On October 20, 2003 a similar private screening, planned at Hotel Nalanda on Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad was prevented after the hotel owners received threats from the VHP. The venue was then shifted to Khet Bhavan where a group of 10 VHP activists also sat through the screening. But immediately thereafter, led by a VHP activist who is a doctor by profession, they abused and threatened the film-maker. The film-makers ordeal continued for over half-an-hour in front of the press. He was then forcibly made to speak to a senior VHP leader in Ahmedabad who fortunately asked that Chakrovarty be allowed to go. But over the next days attempts were made through various channels in Ahmedabad to seize the tapes and CDs of the film. Chakrovarty had to escape to Mumbai where Communalism Combat organised a press screening of his film on October 23, 2003.
 

Interestingly, thousands of cassettes depicting the sangh parivar’s version of the truth behind Godhra have been shown around in Gujarat and across the country to justify the post-Godhra violence. They were also used to garner electoral support in the Assembly polls in Gujarat last year. These cassettes not only depict unsubstantiated versions but also generate ill-will between communities. But in no part of the country have they attracted the long-arm of the law.
 

Copies of the film are now available on VHS. Inquiries can be made at [email protected], or at [email protected]



Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2003. Year 10, No. 92, Cover Story 3
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