The verdict in Godhra train burning case is out after 9 years in which the Special Fast Track Court has set free 63 accused, convicting 31 others. Before I put forward my views on the verdict, let me just give you a brief recap of the incident that happened on 27 February 2002, resulting in one of the most widespread communal riots of independent India.
On the D-day, the S-6 sleeper coach of Sabarmati Express, coming from Darbhanga in Bihar, was destined to Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The train reached Godhra station at 7.47 am. Since the route covered Ayodhya also, the train had a significant number of ‘Karsevaks’ also coming from the disputed Babri site.
Reports suggest that there was an altercation between the ‘Karsevaks’ and local hawkers who happened to be Muslims. Soon, a rumour spread that a Muslim girl was kidnapped by the passengers of Sabaramati Express resulting in the situation spiralling out of control.
The irate mob started pelting stone
s at the train and as the mob gathered strength and force, someone from the crowd threw burning rags into the coach that started the fateful fire.
The incident resulted in the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims including 23 men, 15 women and 20 children. The backlash led to large scale communal violence in Gujarat which subsequently led to the death of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.
Though, later investigations revealed that there could have been a widespread conspiracy behind the burning of the train, the manner in which Gujarat police worked and picked up Muslims from the area and went on slapping the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) against all and sundry was widely criticized by activists.
Now, as the verdict is out and most of the people made accused by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) of the Gujarat Police have been acquitted by the court, including the ‘chief conspirator’ Maulana Umarji, one thing that crosses my mind is, ‘What was the fault of those innocents?’
Personally, I do not endorse any sort of violence and am very happy that the guilty are finally being booked. But the point that I want to make is that out 104 accused, 80 have already spent nine precious years of their lives behind bars for no fault of theirs.
Now my point is, who will compensate for that? In our system which says a man is innocent until proven guilty, the reality is diametrically opposite. As we can see in the case of those acquitted, that they were considered guilty and spent 9 years behind bars without bail, until the court pronounced them innocent.
This also puts a question mark on the intentions of Gujarat police and ultimately on the motive of the state leadership, which used the communal divide in its favour to win in two successive Assembly elections.
One can easily understand the trauma of a common Muslim during those days, when on one hand they were constantly living under the threat of a backlash of the majority community and on the other hand, they were subjected to shoddy investigations by the Gujarat police.
As the dust settles on the Godhra verdict and the true faces of conspirators emerge, it is time the state of Gujarat introspects because history will never forget the atrocities that created tears in the secular fabric of the nation.
It is time the leaders from the land of Gandhi understand the value of non-violence because no matter where they prayed, every man died in Godhra and Gujarat because the perpetrator of the violence was an Indian!
(The views expressed by the author are personal)