23, May 2018 | CJP Team
For 20 long years, CJP has stood by its credo, to assist the eye-witness survivors of the genocidal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, get justice and reparation. We have battled within the courts, stood by the survivors in their quest for justice and achieved milestones. In the process we have also been victimised by an unrepentant and vindictive state. Ensure you become part of this movement for accountability from the high and mighty.
The massacre at Naroda Patiya was one of the bloodiest to take place during the post-Godhra anti-Muslim violence across Gujarat. It was also where large scale gendered violence took place. CJP has been at the forefront to supporting the survivors and helping them secure justice in a long legal battle.
What happened in Naroda Patiya
On February 28, 2002, a mob of at least 5,000 people descended on the neighbourhood. They stabbed, burnt alive, looted, raped and sexually assaulted the residents of Naroda Patiya, a mostly Muslim neighbourhood in the suburbs of Ahmedabad. The mob comprised members of Bajrang Dal and the carnage lasted over 10 hours during a ‘bandh’ call given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in wake of the Godhra Train Burning incident. Official death toll in the Naroda Patiya case stands at 97.
CJP has been fighting for justice alongside the survivors of the Gujarat 2002 carnage for 20 years. The legal battle has moved back and forth between the trial courts and the Supreme Court. We have taken up, in all, as many 68 cases from the Magistrate Court upwards to the Supreme Court, and ensured 172 convictions at the first stage, with 124 being to life imprisonment. Though some of these have been overturned in appeal, CJP’s unique legal journey has pioneered criminal justice reform whether it is the right of Survivors/Victims to participate in criminal trials or Witness Protection. CJP is committed to continuing its quest for exemplary justice, so that the healing process can begin. To support us, please Donate Now.
Gendered Violence in Naroda Patiya
There was a particular kind of hate filled brutality in the Naroda Patiya attack, especially when it came to gendered violence. Here is an excerpt from eye witness testimony to the barbaric acts that took place that day:
“Both daughters and mother were with me. At that time the mob of the Hindus pulled away my mother and killed and burnt her in front of my eyes. At this time both my daughters were with me. My elder daughter F was pulled away by a person from the mob. Her clothes were removed and from among the persons in the mob, 4-5 of them raped her. My younger daughter R was hit on both her hands with a pipe and her hands were fractured. The persons in the mob sprinkled petrol on the backside of my body and hands and burnt me. At around this time I started rolling on the road to put off the fire. My younger daughter was also with me at this time. Both of us rolled on the road. The persons in the mob pulled away a girl named Zarina who was present there. She was also raped and her hands were cut off…”
CJP worked hard to provide legal assistance and support to survivors of sexual violence during the riots. This was one of the rare cases where the narrative of gendered violence returned during the testimonies recorded by the special trial court. Our legal team worked long hours, scrutinising and collating all statements and evidence, and helped them feel secure enough to give testimony in court, which ultimately helped secure convictions. In the August 2012 judgment between pages 368 to 1759, that examine offences of gender driven violence, special court Judge Jyotsna Yagnik categorically observes,
“… It would be absolutely incorrect to believe that gang rapes have not taken place. The extra judicial confession of Suresh Langda Chara (A-22) and testimonies of many PW including of PW 205 (the solitary surviving victim of gang rape who has been awarded Rs 5 lakhs in compensation) can safely be relied upon which proves gang rape and rapes to have taken place on that day. In the separate chapter on incidents of that day, such occurrences have been discussed and decided.“
The special courts judgement is also unique in that it upheld the Sting Operation (Tehelka’s Operation Kalank) as valid, corroboratory evidence that amounted to extra judicial confessions of the accused. The CJP’s Secretary had ensured that this evidence was preserved by approaching the NHRC for a special order to test and preserve the voice recordings months after the sting operation became public. All this meant for the CJP team to remain alert and committed to the struggle for justice as also willing and able –at great risk– to approaching a multitude of authorities to gather and garner evidence, intervene effectively in the courts –lower and higher –stay the course. To finally get some semblance of justice. Court battles are long and hard in India, our criminal justice system crippling, not favouring the victim and often making a mockery of independence and integrity. Within this overall scenario, to step in and hang in there even as adverse winds blew our way, was no mean task. But we did and we are still here. To stay.
Like in the other individual trials that CJP has supported, we stood against the death penalty. This arises out of our commitment against retributory justice. The judgement of the trial court also recognises how over 123 countries, worldwide have abolished the death penalty.
How CJP helped take the case forward
CJP was born shortly after the Gujarat genocide of 2002. Our first objective was to ensure that the stories of the survivors were heard in court so that justice could be done. Given how several powerful people including MLA Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, BJP leaders Suresh (Richard) Chara were allegedly involved in the case, there was also the looming fear of witness intimidation and evidence tampering. CJP therefore got together a team of experienced and committed lawyers to ensure the cases not only got to court, but that all witnesses and survivors would get a fair hearing and that there would be no miscarriage of justice. For our efforts we were rewarded with false allegations, malicious prosecution and constant hounding by a vindictive state.
The first task involved ensuring that investigations, that were being wilfully subverted by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch were restored with integrity: bulk FIRs were deliberately being filed to dilute the impact of the violence, names of powerful accused were dropped from the FIRs (though they appeared in statements and complaints of survivors) and easy bail was granted to powerful accused by the higher courts. This took place between 2002-2004.
Worst of all, compliant prosecutors –lawyers belonging to the ruling political dispensation– were appointed so that cases were not fought with the independence that these mass crimes deserved. Correcting all this meant rigorous and authentic evidence collection and documentation, taking the matter to the Supreme Court, obtaining orders for correcting faulty investigations and finally, when the trials began, providing sensitive and quality legal aid to the witnesses who were also survivors of mass violence. All this transpired in the 2004-2008 period.
It was only in March 2008 that, on a plea by CJP, that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to further investigate the crucial carnage cases was actually appointed. To obtain this order from the Supreme Court, it took us six long years, which meant rigorous hand holding with victim survivors to ensure that they retain faith in the struggle for justice. It was after the investigations by the SIT took place that Kodnani and Bajrangi were arraigned as accused. Trial in the Special Court began in 2009. Judgement was delivered on August 29, 2012.
The curious case of Maya Kodnani
At the time of the Naroda Patiya massacre, Maya Kodnani was an MLA from the constituency. A Special Investigation Team had said that a day after the Godhra incident, Maya Kodnani incited mobs and was seen at the spot by 11 witnesses. Witnesses had told the court that she handed out swords to rioters, exhorted them to attack Muslims and at one point fired a pistol. Even phone records placed Kodnani in Naroda at the time of the incident.
A few months after the riots she won the election as an MLA once again by a huge margin, showcasing how playing the hate card actually benefited her political career. Later she was rewarded with the Women and Child Welfare portfolio of the state government.
Kodnani was convicted by a special SIT Court in 2012, but acquitted by the Gujarat High Court in 2018.
Kodnani was also accused of presiding over the carnage at Naroda Gam nearby. However, BJP Chief Amit Shah testified in the Naroda Gam case on September 18, 2017, saying Kodnani was first at the State Assembly at around 8:30am and then at the Sola Civil Hospital between 9:30am and 11am. This testimony suggests that she could not have been present in Naroda Gam at the time she was alleged to have been presiding over the carnage in the area.
How the case progressed in the special court
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed to investigate various Gujarat riots cases in response to a CJP petition in the Supreme Court praying for an independent investigation. Out of 650 witnesses, 327 were examined. A total of 8 chargesheets were filed in the case, 3 by the Crime Branch and 5 by the SIT. 62 accused were arrested in the case. Special judge Jyotsna Yagnik had convicted 31 others along with Maya Kodnani on August 29, 2012. 29 people were acquitted for lack of evidence. Babu Bajrangi was first awarded life sentence, but this was later commuted to 21 years in prison. Maya Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years in jail, but was later granted bail due to ill health in 2014.
It was witness survivors backed by CJP and not the Supreme Court appointed SIT that challenged the easy granting of bail to Kodnani in 2015. It was our lawyers who contested the claim that bail granted to this powerful perpetrator would be a miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately both the High Court and Supreme Court eventually allowed Kodnani to be out on bail. Bajrangi too was allowed out on parole several times during the period of his conviction.
You can read the August 2012 Naroda Patiya judgment here:
You can read other related case documents here.
Trial Court’s observations on allegations of “Witness Tutoring”
The trial court also looked at allegations of “tutoring” witnesses leveled against the CJP team led by Teesta Setalvad, and found them to be baseless. It recorded in the judgment, “It is notable that it is not alleged that the NGO leaders or lawyers or the social workers have any personal enmity or ill will against the accused. Hence the suggestion in the crossexamination of PW that they have been speaking as was taught to them, is found very irrelevant. What would be the benefit of such NGO is nowhere suggested except suggesting that it was to defame State of Gujarat. But then, the State of Gujarat is not an accused but is the prosecuting agency which was forgotten it seems. No substance is found in this submission.”
Relevant extracts from the judgment may be read here:
The Gujarat HC judgment
The convicts appealed the case in the Gujarat High Court where hearing concluded in August 2017. The Gujarat High Court acquitted Kodnani stating they found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy in the riots. The HC noted that none of the 11 witnesses had named Kodnani when the case was being registered. (This observation was made despite the fact that dozens of the witness survivors, traumatised by brute violence, were living displaced in relief camps; besides the Crime Branch take-over of the investigation had led to glaring lapses in the probe). “Eleven witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani’s presence at the location, there were contradictions,” said special public prosecutor Prashant Desai. The Naroda Patiya Gujarat High Court Judgement may be read here:
However, what is shocking is that the Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court of India to both further investigate and prosecute the Naroda Patiya case and eight other criminal trials, has not appealed against this acquittal before the Supreme Court.
*This piece was originally published on May 23, 2018 and was updated in February 2022.