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Gulberg: Not just Zakia, verdict bad news for other riot victims as well

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

It took 14 and a quarter years and four judges to pronounce the verdict in the Gulberg Society massacre case. The court convicted 24 people for murdering 69 people in Gulberg during the 2002 Gujarat riots and acquitted the other 34 accused.

Notably, the only government official among the accused - police inspector KG Erda - was acquitted.

What's also noteworthy about the judgment, which is yet to be made public, is that it ruled out criminal conspiracy behind the massacre.

The prosecution had argued that deliberate delay and complicity on part of the state machinery had allowed the mob to lynch the 69 people, including Congress leader Ehsan Jafri. The defence, on the other had, had maintained that the massacre was the result of "spontaneous" mob fury over the Godhra train burning. The defence had also claimed that Jafri fired in the air when he saw the mob gathering, inciting them to attack him and other Muslims who had taken refuge in his house.

Also read - Gulbarg Society massacre: records show how top cops steered clear

Of the 24 people convicted, 11 were charged with murder under section 302, and the rest with "lesser crimes", likely rioting and arson.

The quantum of punishment will be argued on 6 June, although the 11 people charged with murder are expected to get at least life sentences. While it is not clear whether the convicts would approach higher courts, the families of the victims of the massacre have said they would challenge the acquittal of the 34 accused.

Zakia Jafri, the widow of Ehsan Jafri, and Rupabehn Modi, whose son was among those murdered, have expressed displeasure about the judgment and vowed to secure more convictions. The acquittal of Edra and BJP corporator Bipin Patel, in particular, has not gone down well with the victims' families.

Ahmedabad police knew an armed mob of 4,500 had gathered at Gulberg. Why didn't they do anything?

The verdict is bound to disappoint many activists who have been fighting to secure justice in the case. A question could be asked, for instance, how only 11 people were held guilty of murder when 69 people were massacred and 19 houses burnt in a matter of four hours in Gulberg Housing Society, located in the Hindu-majority neighbourhood of Meghaninagar in Ahmedabad.

More important, the court's observation that there was no criminal conspiracy could have a bearing on other Gujarat riots cases, including Zakia Jafri's case against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in the Gujarat High Court.

RB Sreekumar, the former Gujarat Police DGP was the first serving police officer to depose against the Modi regime after the 2002 carnage, providing valuable evidence to National Commission for Minorities and the Nanavati Commission.

Commenting on the verdict, he said while some "executioners of the mob violence" have been convicted, there are several others who deserve to be punished as well.

"In any communal riot or pogrom, there are not just the executioners of violence but also the planners, who in this case were Modi and his friends. Then there are the organisers, who were district-level Sangh workers. There are mobilisers, who get mobs together and arranged for easy weapons like gas cylinders. But none of these people have been touched in this case. So, I have mixed feelings about this verdict."

Under the scanner

According to records of the Gujarat Police Control Room, the Ahmedabad police knew that Gulberg Society had been surrounded by a mob of 4,5000, most of them armed. Yet, they put the entire Meganinagar area in charge of inspector Erda between 11.30 am and 3.30 pm, when the massacre was carried out.

Apart from evidence about the police's complicity, presented to the court in the form of sting videos done by former Tehelka reporter and now AAP leader Ashish Khaitan, the police's own records show there was no police movement in Meghaninagar just when it was under the most severe attack, despite police officials, including the then Ahmedabad police commissioner, being informed about it.

The records also show Erda had been in constant contact with his superiors. Although he had called for paramilitary back-up at around 2:30 pm, it didn't arrive until late in the evening. The fire brigade wasn't called for even while the entire Gulberg Society was being doused with petrol and set afire with burning tyres and acid.

Acquittal of cop KG Edra and BJP corporator Bipin Patel has not gone down well with victims' kin. Why?

Over the years, the Gulberg massacre case has been at the centre of many a controversy. Even the role of a Supreme Court-appointed SIT, charged with investigating the 2002 violence, has been questioned. The SIT's then Special Public Prosecutor RK Shah had resigned in early 2010, questioning not just the impartiality of the SIT but the attitude of the then presiding judge as well.

Manoj Mitta, author of The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, told Catch, "Having not seen the judgment yet, I cannot comment on the merits of specific acquittals and convictions. Gulberg saw the first of the post-Godhra massacres. Zakia Jafri raised serious questions about the accountability of the then Modi regime for the massacre, which had been preceded by a prolonged siege. In his testimony to the SIT, Modi had no plausible explanation for his administration's failure to prevent this carnage despite repeated alerts from the police team on the spot. His exoneration despite major infirmities in his testimony betrayed the SIT's cover up."

Considering how both parties are placed now, one can safely assume this verdict is just the beginning of a long drawn legal battle.

You can read a copy of the order here:

More in Catch - 24 convicted by Ahmedabad court in 2002 Gulbarg Society massacre

Gulbarg Society case: 5 lesser known facts about the 2002 massacre

First published: 2 June 2016, 7:27 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.