Victims call Naroda Gam verdict murder’ of judiciary, say it will only embolden rioters

The riots broke out in the Naroda Gam area of Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, during a bandh called to protest the Godhra train burning a day before in which 58 passengers were charred to death.

Ahmedabad: The acquittal of all 67 accused in the Naroda Gam case in which 11 members of a minority community were killed amounts to “murder” of judiciary and the verdict will only embolden rioters, said victims, some of whom claimed lives were snuffed out in front of their eyes.

A special court here on Thursday acquitted all the accused in the case, including former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani and ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi. Naroda Gam violence was one of the worst massacres witnessed during the state-wide riots triggered by the Sabarmati train carnage on February 27, 2002. The case was probed by a Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team.

Sharif Malek, who was injured by a mob that also looted his house, claimed that the “judiciary appears to be under pressure”, and such a judgment will only encourage rioters.

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Imtiaz Qureshi said his house was looted and a group of people murdered three persons in front of his eyes. He claimed that Thursday’s judgment shows that the “judiciary is under pressure”.

“If those protecting the law are made to murder the law, then this will drive the country towards destruction. This way, people will lose faith in democracy,” said Adib Pathan, whose house was plundered during the violence.

An eerie silence now prevails in the part of Naroda Gam in Ahmedabad where 11 members of the minority community were killed, with most of the houses locked and their walls covered in soot that reminds of the fateful day when they were set on fire.

“I was a witness to three members of a family, including a woman and her two children, being burnt alive in a house in my neighbourhood. A majority of the houses are closed with hardly 10-15 families living now out of around 110 families who lived there before the riots,” said Malek.

“This is a murder of the judiciary. If such a judgment is passed, then it will end up encouraging the rioters. They will no longer be in the fear of law. There is no doubt that the judiciary is under political pressure. The judiciary is under political control, especially in Gujarat,” he claimed.

Had there been no “such pressure and the judge delivered the judgment impartially”, then not less than 25-30 accused would have been given life imprisonment, Malek asserted.

Qureshi, who was a witness to the violence, said that a handful of people continue to live in the neighbourhood, while the majority has left the area.

“A married couple and their daughter were burnt alive before my eyes. A woman escaping from the marauding mob that burnt six members of her family was also stabbed before my eyes,” said Qureshi, who ran a printing business at Naroda Gam.

The acquittal of all 67 accused in the case means that the “judiciary is under pressure”, he claimed.

“As a witness, I identified 17 accused persons before the court, and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probed the matter for months before coming to the same conclusion in its report. The SIT was constituted by the Supreme Court. So this means the law has been belied by the law itself,” said Qureshi.

Pathan said they had all the proof against the accused. “Even the SIT had the proof against the accused, but they were not considered by the court.”

The riots broke out in the Naroda Gam area of Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, during a bandh called to protest the Godhra train burning a day before in which 58 passengers were charred to death.

The trial started in 2010, and six different judges presided over the case since then, starting with Justice SH Vora who was transferred to Gujarat High Court.

The then minister in the Narendra Modi government Maya Kodnani, ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajranngi, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaideep Patel were among the key accused in the case.

The court of special judge SK Baxi on Thursday acquitted all the 67 accused in the case which was one of the nine that were investigated by an SIT constituted by the Supreme Court.

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