01, Jan 2004
The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, 2004 released by the Government of the United States of America made the following observations with regards to the progress of the trials in the Gujarat riots cases and the anti-minority agenda of the Modi government and the Sangh Parivar.
There have been reports of intimidation and harassment of witnesses; however, the NHRC and Supreme Court continued to press investigation of the Best Bakery case and the NHRC pressed for a retrial. To date there have been no prosecutions of any of those responsible for religiously motivated killing and destruction in other parts of the country.
In January at the direction of the Indian Supreme Court, the CBI began investigating the rape of Bilkis Rassol (which occurred in 2002) and the murder of her relatives. In May according to the Indian Supreme Court’s direction, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) assigned several of its officers to guard witnesses in four major post-riot cases in Ahmedabad and Anand districts.
In April the Indian censors refused a censor certificate to a commercial Hindi film called “Chand Buz Gaya”, which has a character resembling the controversial Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The story involves a Muslim girl and Hindu boy in love with each other, who are separated by Hindu-Muslim riots that occur after a train arson incident.
In March 2003, the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),an offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), an organization that propagates a return to Hindu values and cultural norms, announced it would launch a nationwide campaign to “reclaim” 30,000 Hindu temples that it contends had been converted into mosques. The VHP’s published list of such mosques includes the Gyan Vapi mosque in Varanasi, the Idgah mosque in Mathura, and the Ram temple grounds at the former Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.
In March 2003, the state assembly of Gujarat passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act. The act requires those involved with a conversion to seek the permission, both before and after the conversion ceremony, of the district collector, who is the sole arbiter of the validity of each conversion. This act also requires the police to investigate cases of forced or induced religious conversions.
During the May to June 2003 trial of 21 Hindus accused of burning 12 Muslims and 2 Hindu workers alive in the Best Bakery, 41 of the 73 witnesses recanted their stories. On June 18, 2003, the 21 defendants were acquitted. The key eyewitness, Zahira Sheikh, a 19-year-old woman, claimed in July 2003, during a press conference in Mumbai, that she had testified falsely after BJP leaders repeatedly threatened her family. The NHRC dispatched its team to study the Best Bakery judgment in July 2003 and filed a petition for retrial outside Gujarat in the Supreme Court in August 2003. Subsequently, on April 12, the Supreme Court ordered a new investigation and trial outside of Gujarat in the Best Bakery case, following the state government’s submission of an affidavit to the Supreme Court on January 28.
There were minor Hindu-Muslim skirmishes in Gujarat in Vadodara (September 2003 and February), Viramgam (November 2003), Ahmedabad (November 2003 and January), and Godhra (September 2003 and February). Seven persons (three Hindus and four Muslims) were killed in these skirmishes.
The entire report can be read here.