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Gujarat Genocide Trials - Appeal for the Protection of Witnesses

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To:  President of the Republic of India, to the Prime Minister, to the Minister for Home, and to the National Human Rights Commission

Gujarat Genocide Trials: Appeal for the Protection of Witnesses

The Best Bakery of Hanuman Tekri, Vadodara, was attacked by a mob of several hundred people late in the evening on 1 March 2002. By morning, the bakery had been burnt down and over a dozen people had been killed. Zahira Habibullah Sheikh, many members of whose family were among the dead or injured, described in detail what had happened. She said, among other things, that the Police Control Room and the Panigate Police Station had been asked for help, and that a police vehicle had stopped briefly by the bakery but had driven on. She said all this many times in Vadodara and she said all this many times in Delhi.

But it is well known that when they came before the "fast track" court, Zahira, her entire surviving family, and other witnesses either said that they knew nothing of the attack on the bakery or else that the accused had actually been their saviours. As a consequence, all 21 accused were acquitted. A press report said of this: "The trial court had acquitted the accused saying the police had conducted a shoddy investigation by booking the wrong persons and collecting the wrong evidence."

It is also well known that soon after this, Zahira announced that she had lied in court. Here is a press report about that: "On July 7, a few days after the verdict, Zahira told a press conference in Bombay that she and other witnesses had changed their testimony after receiving death threats. She directly accused BJP MP [should be MLA] Madhu Shrivastav and his cousin, Congress politician Chandrakant 'Bhattu' Shrivastav, of intimidating her." The BJP MLA, once a known bootlegger, had protectively escorted Zahira to the court. It is unlikely that the police were absent.

But here is yet another press report, one which carries more weight than all the others: "While ordering a re-trial of the Best Bakery case in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court today compared the Gujarat Government to 'modern day Neros who were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and hapless women were burning, and were probably deliberating on how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected.'"

The latest and most staggeringly ludicrous episode in the saga came well after the re-trial in Mumbai had begun. It had Zahira accusing an NGO's people of taking her to Mumbai "at knife point" and holding her captive there. She appealed for protection.

Where was Zahira when she decided, for whatever reason, to tell the trial court that she had lied earlier? Where was Zahira when she decided, for whatever reason, to ask to be protected from the NGO which used knives? On both occasions she was in Vadodara; and on the second, it was only the Gujarat Police which could be asked to protect her. Who controlled the Gujarat Police, the force whose duty it was to have prevented the crimes of which the Supreme Court had spoken? The Gujarat Government, of course, which so many have held responsible for having planned and instigated those very crimes.

In or before June 2003, the People's Union for Civil Liberties and the Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan withdrew from the hearings of the Nanavati-Shah Commission in Vadodara. They said that "many Muslim victims and witnesses to key incidents in last year's violence would not be willing to appear before the Commission ... because of the atmosphere of fear and insecurity prevailing among the Muslim victims...." They regretted that the Commission had made no "public apology for any reported statements in the media that amounted to pre-judging and exonerating the State Police, one of the main accused in last year's violence...."

This observation about the Gujarat Police cannot be called evidence. However, responsible people and organisations, as well as two statutory bodies, have said things which, at the very least, raise suspicions about that force. The words used by the Supreme Court about the Gujarat Government went well beyond mere suspicion: they pointed not only to a dereliction of statutory duty but also to a probable illegal protection of criminals.

Over 2,000 Indian citizens were killed in Gujarat in the weeks and months following 28 February 2002. It is not known how many women and girls were raped before being killed. To determine or even estimate the economic losses suffered during that time will be a most difficult endeavour: although the Gujarat Government's solution -- which has seemed distinctly like a message -- has been to dole out an absurdly small pittance in the name of compensation.

After so many deaths, so many rapes, so much destruction of property, so much looting, so much human suffering of all varieties, there should have been -- and, we hope, there will be -- countless more trials than the Best Bakery one and the very few others which are in progress or are awaited. No trial can be conducted without witnesses, and witnesses cannot testify freely in an "atmosphere of fear and insecurity", when they live in terror of those very institutions and individuals who should protect them and ensure that they get justice.

There is no reason at all to expect that Gujarat's Muslims will get justice, or that they will be able to speak freely about what happened during the post-Godhra violence, while the Gujarat Government and the Gujarat Police can manipulate and terrorise them.

We therefore appeal to the President of the Republic of India, to the Prime Minister, to the Minister for Home, and to the National Human Rights Commission to make arrangements for the protection of all witnesses in all trials related to the Gujarat pogrom. We appeal, further, that this protection be extended to the families of witnesses.

It goes without saying that the Gujarat Government and the Gujarat Police should not be involved in the planning or execution of this programme of protection, and that witnesses should face no danger from NGOs either.




The Undersigned



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The India: Gujarat Genocide Trials: Appeal for the Protection of Witnesses Petition to President of the Republic of India, to the Prime Minister, to the Minister for Home, and to the National Human Rights Commission was created by and written by Mukul Dube and Harsh Kapoor ([email protected]).  This petition is hosted here at as a public service. There is no endorsement of this petition, express or implied, by Artifice, Inc. or our sponsors. For technical support please use our simple Petition Help form.


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