Gulberg verdict: dejected victim says VHP men were 'handpicked out' of the trial
The Ahmedabad special court's observation that the Gulberg massacre was the "darkest day" was perhaps the only consolation for the victims and their families. For 14 years, they have waited for a day when justice is delivered. But Friday, many of them said, was not that day.
The court's awarding of the maximum punishment - life sentence - to only 11 of the accused was the main reason. The first setback to the victims had come on 3 June when the court found only 24 of the 66 accused - including six who had died during the course of the trial - guilty of the massacre.
Of the 24, only 11 were held responsible for actually murdering 69 Muslims in a few hours on 28 February 2002, the court ruled on Friday. Of the others, who were charged with "lesser crimes", one was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 12 to seven years.
R C Kodekar, the counsel of the SIT which probed the massacre, called the judgment "lenient and inadequate". The prosecution, he said, had pressed for this case to be considered among the "rarest of the rare" cases.
"We were pushing for an exemplary punishment for all those convicted by the court - to be put behind bars till death. But the court awarded 12 people just a seven-year sentence. This, in my opinion, is too lenient and really inadequate," Kodekar said.
Teesta Setalvad, a petitioner in the case, said, "The judgment in the Gulberg case unfortunately does not give judicial legitimacy to the gruesomeness of the narrative - an eight-hour-long daylight massacre in which senior cops of Ahmedabad abdicated their legal and constitutional duty."
The judgment especially does not consider "the sacrifice that Ehsan Jafri made of his life to save the lives of others," she added.
The leniency shown by the court is not a victory for the accused as much as it's a failure of the prosecution, the victims of the massacre said.
Rupabehn Mody said it appeared the accused who are associated with the BJP and the VHP had been "handpicked out" of the trial process. "We saw these people in the crowd. We saw people like Atul Vaidya [a VHP worker who was given a prison term of 10 years]. In fact, KG Erda [the only police officer accused in the case who was acquitted at the last hearing] arranged my meeting with Vaidya where he himself told me he was leading the mob. I have said all this to the court."
Mody insisted that justice has not been done. "First, the number of convicts in the case itself was disheartening. Only 24 convicted, 36 people acquitted. Now, even among those convicted, 12 people were sentenced to just seven years. Justice has definitely not been done."
She noted how the VHP had been defiant in the face of this trial. "You know, Praveen Togadia said in Bharuch on Friday that nothing would happen to the accused in the 2002 carnage cases. And what he said has come true. It makes me wonder about his influence," said Mody, who lost her young son in the Gulberg massacre.
[Togadia was in Bharuch on 10 June to advertise a cheap aphrodisiac that he claimed to have concocted himself. His remark at the event that Hindu men should worship their manhood was widely reported.]
Jafri's son, Tanvir, said the court's rejection of their argument of criminal conspiracy was the real setback to the victims. "First of all, let's be clear on the facts. Just 11 people could not have murdered 69 people. Secondly, let's remember that in the case of Naroda Patiya, the court had upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy. It's just 3 km away from Gulberg and there 97 people were killed by the mob on the same day. And just as in Gulberg, the police was completely absent from the crime scene."
It was surprising, Tanvir added, that despite this the court wasn't convinced of criminal conspiracy charge. "So, if criminal conspiracy argument does not stand, then can someone explain to me what stopped the police from reaching Gulberg society for the entire day?" he asked
He claimed that enough evidence had been given to the court to substantiate the conspiracy charge. "All the bodies that were slashed and cut open with swords that day had turned into ashes overnight when we reached the society the next morning. We told the court that the police officer responsible - KG Erda - had burnt them to conceal evidence. It's really strange that the court chose not to consider this."
More in Catch - State itself the culprit in Gulberg massacre: Teesta Setalvad