There are many secular minded persons hailing the landmark judgment of Special Court judge, Jyotsana Yagnik in the Naroda Patiya case of the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. The lady judge in a bold judgment convicted 32 persons including some high profile people like former BJP minister, Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi.
No wonder, she is being applauded by the Gujarat riot victims for scripting the story of their great fight back. However, judge, Jyotsana Yagnik is not the only character in this amazing story.
On 28 February 2002, ninety-seven persons were killed in Naroda Patiya, in the outskirts of Ahmadabad. This was one the biggest massacre of Muslims during post Godhara riots in Gujarat. It followed the protest call given by the BJP government after train fire tragedy in which 97 Hindu lost their lives near Godhra railway station.
The mysterious fire was blamed on the Muslims and in a retaliatory move; a well organized progrom was launched in different places of Gujarat. In this innocent Muslims were attacked, Muslim women were raped, houses burnt and this mayhem continued for weeks. The law enforcing agencies remained mute spectators to such blood and gore obviously following the instructions from ‘above’. According to one estimate more than 2,500 Muslims lost their lives in the post Godhara riots.
Call it conscience, courage, honesty, humanity or sense of duty, many social activists, lawyers, journalists and actors came out in open to seek justice for the Gujarat riot victims. They were joined by some upright officers who worked in the police and administration making it an incredible story of fight for justice.
In a hostile atmosphere when section of bureaucracy, society and officials spew hate against the Muslims, social activists braved threats on their lives to side with the victims, lawyers’ came forward to file cases for them, journalists risked their lives to do sting operation to nail the culprits, serving officers risked their career to disobey the orders and some openly spoke about the perpetrators of the crime.
This is something unimaginable in the annals of independent Indian history as all those on the forefront of this great fight are non –Muslims. Their valiant efforts deserve a salute. But for them, like many other cases of communal violence in India, this one too could have become a case of justice denied.
Social activists Teesta Setalvad has became a symbol of this amazing story. She braced all odds and painstakingly collected evidences to fight the court battle seeking justice for the riot victims. Her efforts literally set up a fight between David and the Goliath. The strong judgment in the Naroda Patiya case could not have been possible, without her and others determination to take the cudgels against the might of the state and the society in large.
In this amazing story, Harsh Mander, a Sikh, is another hero. He left the coveted job of an IAS officer, in wake of Gujarat riots. This courageous officer openly criticized his colleagues of not doing what was expected from them during the communal pogrom. It is not an easy job to take such a moralistic stand for a serving officer. Since then Mander is relentlessly fighting for relief and rehabilitation of the riot victims.
Mukul Sinha, of Jan Sangharsh Manch activists is another character of this story. He painstakingly collected vital evidences, scanning thousands of pages of documents and producing them in the court as records, so that the culprits could be brought to justice. He did this with great courage ignoring even the threats to his life.
Actor Nandita Das, also a social activist, at various forums openly spoke about Gujtat’s officers’ laxity; their complicity and the role of politicians’ in perpetrating the riots for days together. Her movie “Firaaq” graphically depicts the pain and agony of the victims of the post Godhra riots.
Thelka journalist Ashish Khetan, whose sting operation ‘kalank’ established the role of Babu Bajrangi and others in the post Godhara riots is exceptional piece of journalism. The extra-judicial confessions recorded by Khetan on camera proved to be corroborating evidence against the Bajrang Dal-VHP leaders who had given a go-ahead to the anti Muslim program.
Criticizing the perpetrators of riots from outside is a easy, but to speak for the victims being the part of the ‘system’ requires extra ordinary courage. The intelligence chief, RB Sreekumar is one such person who got disgusted with the state apparatus that drove him to fight for the justice of riot victims.
The figure of deaths in Gujarat could have been much higher except for some prompt action by some men in uniform. IPS officer Rahul Sharma who showed exemplary courage ordering firing on the mob of rioters on way to burn a Madarsa in Bhavnagar that housed 300 children. Sharma later came up with revelation of politicians’- rioter’s nexus and for this Gujarat government acted against him and issued a charge-sheet.
There are other officers who also didn’t budge despite pressure and ensure that violence was controlled in their areas. V K Gupta, Manoj Shashidhar, Narasimha Komar, Vivek Srivastava, M D Antani, Upendra Singh, Keshav Kumar and other are to name a few.
IPS officer, Sanjeev Bhatt is the shining star of this amazing story who listened to the call of his conscious. He risked his career naming Chief Minister Narendra Modi for complicity in Gujarat riots. It really requires an extraordinary courage to speak up so boldly and Bhatt has become a symbol of this courage. FIRs were filed against him and he was arrested for challenging the most powerful person in the state.
The names mentioned here are just some cues to give an indication about the nature of this fight. There are many unsung hero who deserve equal praise. Their combined efforts have resulted in Supreme Court monitoring the cases, constituting the SIT, rapping government, and taking other important steps.
The other riot cases in Gujarat have on the judgment stage, prominent being Gulbarga housing society case. It is expected that just like Naroda Patiya case, the judgment in other cases may too indict some high and mighty people of Gujarat.
Even though the SIT has absolved the Chief Minister Narender Modi, of role in Gujarat riots, the forthcoming judgment may spill some beans. Modi remains evasive, even though being called ‘merchant of death’ in popular discourse. It’s likely that some crucial evidence may filter in such cases that may become the clinching evidence to nail the ‘big fish.’
Indian secular traditions many a times has withstood such storm and each time it has emerged stronger. The fight for justice of Gujarat victim is the story of India’s glorious secular tradition. It is the acts of such heroic deeds that have instilled the faith of the Muslim community in the Indian democracy. All those who are part in this great fight back deserve a heartfelt gratitude from every Muslim of this country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com