Gulbarg Society Carnage: Who Cast the First Stone?
MUMBAI: Communal violence is the big bane of Indian society. While on one hand innocents are killed the guilty mostly get away without any punishment. The rate of prosecution of riot cases is very low. Even where punishments are meted out the big fish are let off while the foot soldiers get punished. Apart from these observations what is popularized and what has become part of the ‘social common sense’ is that ‘it is Muslims who begin the riots and then they get killed’.
The Judgment on the Gulberg society massacre, delivered on June 2, 2016 has only partly given justice to the victims. Of the accused only 24 were punished, 11 for life and others for some small sentences. The real forces behind the carnage were untouched and the Gujarat state prosecution’s claim that violence was triggered off by Ehsan Jafri who fired the first shot and angered the mob. Just to recall ,Gulbarg society was ransacked and the butchering of residents took place on February 28,2002 , the day after train coaches in Godhra were burnt. Right from the morning the well armed mob started accumulating around the locality where Ehsan Jafri, the ex Member of Parliament lived. The mob was threatening, constantly shouting slogans against the Muslims.
The prosecution theory is that the mob became aggressive after Jafri fired on it. Special SIT Judge P.B.Desai upheld this with the view that the mob of thousands that killed 69 persons, would not have turned violent had Jafri not fired at them with his private revolver.
The mob had started collecting outside the Society as the records of the police and witnesses at the time shows. It was threatening and aggressive. The residents were so terrified that they sought refuge in Jafri’s residence as the safest place under the circumstances, where they were hemmed in and could not move out. Jafri himself was telephoning every possible person, leader, friend, politician for help. As his on Tanveer said after the court verdict now, “What were the 24 police officers present doing for four hours, watching the show? The Judgment not only appears to have ignored the violent build up but appears to have been standing some of the evidence on its head. “
The Ahmedabad police control records state that Meghaninagar police inspector K.G.Kerda called his seniors desperately for reinforcements to handle the large mob. This, media reports have pointed out, was at least two hours before 2.30pm when Jafri was alleged to have fired at the mob. Instead he was killed brutally along with the others by the mob that was growing in numbers through the day.
Tanvir Jafri, Jafri’s son, told IANS, “Our houses were looted, plundered and set on fire right since the morning. How could they find my father’s revolver and cartridges from the ashes? The police does not have a single witness who saw my father firing. This is complete humbug and a blatant lie.”
He asserted, “I am shocked by the judgment. It is the prosecution which is to be blamed for not putting up a strong case. If the police makes such a weak case, the court will eventually go by what is produced.”
IANS in a detailed reported quoted a key eyewitness and survivor, Imtiyaz Khan, as saying “Jafri sahab may have opened fire, but when? Only and only after we all were left completely helpless. Nobody is bothering to find out why did Jafri sahab have to fire? Did he open fire just like that? You think he was fiddling with his revolver like a toy when a mob of 20,000 was attacking?” He further added, “I have not seen Jafri sahab firing, I am not sure if anybody else had or not. We had taken shelter in his bungalow. But I am saying that even if you assume that he did open fire, he was not doing it for fun.”
Instead Khan confirmed that Jafri had called then Chief Minister Narendra Modi as well for help. “He was calling senior police officials, politicians and even Narendra Modi in my presence,” Imtiyaz said, adding that his testimony is in court records.
In the analysis of communal violence the general observation is that the narrative of events is so constructed as to blame the victim. The ‘victim as the culprit’ is the pattern of propaganda. The pretext of violence is well constructed by the perpetrators of violence.
In one of the best studies on mechanism of communal violence, V.N. Rai, ex DGP of police UP, pointed out “In order to guard them against external criticism and to preserve their self righteousness, violence is projected to be started by Muslims. It is as if a weaker person is pushed into the corner by a stronger, forcing him to raise his hand so that he may be suitably punished for his 'attack'. Before the punishment is meted out a suitable hue and cry can be made about the fact that because the person cornered is naturally wicked and violent, he is bound to attack first" (Combating Communal Conflicts Pg. 56-57).
The court accepted the contention that the killing was a spontaneous act by an angry crowd. How does then one explain the well recorded calls from Ehsan Jafri to the police and Chief Minister for help? How does one explain how and why the police did not respond to the call for protection when it was desperately sought by Ehsan Jafri? How does one explain the police and administration’s inaction, when a possibility of police force coming and protecting the people did exist except through conspiracy theory? Those responsible for protecting the life of residents lapsed in their duty, starting from the then Chief Minstar Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and other officials.
In a parallel case of Naroda Patiya, the presiding judge upheld the conspiracy theory and a life sentence was handed down to two major leaders of the BJP and associates, Mayaben Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi. Yagnik pointed out “This was a pre-planned conspiracy and it cannot be mitigated just by saying it was a reaction to [the] Godhra train burning incident.” (The Wire, 2016) After delivering this judgment the learned judge has been getting threats of different types. The question is how the conspiracy theory can be rejected in Gulbarg when the dynamics of both the cases= Gulbarg and Naroda Patiya- has been similar.
Zakia Jafri, the widow of the slain Ahsan Jafri’s, determination to get justice for the violence victims is remarkable again. It is in the same Gulberg society that Rupa Mody lost her son and she is relentlessly pursued her struggle to locate him. Based on this tragic episode the film Parzania captures the human tragedy which visited this residential area.