Gulberg Society: The massacre and its memory A chilling account of the Gulberg society massacre, and the legal journey since then, by the son of Ahsan Jafri, the man who sacrificed his life to save others

24, Feb 2022 | Tanveer Ahsan Hussain Jafri

It was a very silent morning. All the residents of the society were in pain and fearful on hearing the news of the death of passengers in the burning of the railway compartment in Godhra. They were also feeling uneasy due to the bandh call given by extremist organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

A group of senior members among Gulberg residents, Khansahab Gulzarbhai Fakir Mohammed sahab, Anwar master, Fakruddin Bhatia, Kasambhai Mansori were sitting with my Father Ahsan Jafri, in his office, which was in his own house – 19, Gulberg society. All of them were eagerly watching Jafrisahab making calls to his friends and acquaintances, trying to gather information about the impact of the bandh in the city and for any sign of communal disturbances.

It was early morning and many neighbours, particularly women and children, were already in the house attentively listening to the discussion going on in my father’s offices. The rooms on the ground floor of the house were already full. At this time, all persons sitting in my house, including my father, got the news that in the close vicinity of Gulberg society, some shops and vehicles had been destroyed and looted and a Muslim resident staying just outside the society was attacked and killed.

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.

On the 20th anniversary of the Gujarat carnage, we are coming together to reflect on this struggle for justice. Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/cjpindia

 

Ahsansahab (Abbu) had already talked with the Police Commissioner and was expecting a police party to arrive at the Gulberg society for protection. A permanent police chowky had already been established in the Gulberg Society premises since 1985, it was always staffed with two police constables. As the news about communal tension reached society residents, the uneasiness among them increased and many of them reached my home expecting to hear some soul soothing news about the arrival of more substantive police protection and or some other help.

During these uneasy moments, news reached my father about the Police Commissioner arriving at the entrance of Gulberg Society. He, along with Fakir Mohammed chacha, Gulzar bhai, Khans sahib went to meet him on the public road adjacent to the society. Ahsansahab shared with him the fear and uneasiness and also shared with him that society residents are extremely worried about their safety and   it is very important that police personnel are deputed in the society to prevent any loss of life. The Police Commissioner, after discussions with my father, left, assuring Ahsansahab about the immediate deployment of police forces. At that moment, a large communally charged crowd shouting anti-Muslim slogans had already gathered surrounding the society.

Immediately after the Police commissioner left, the crowd became even more violent and began looting and burning of Muslim-owned property. A Muslim resident staying outside the society was killed. Meanwhile, Ahsansahab fervently made attempts to reach his friends in political parties, administration and the police department to get help. But the required help did not arrive.

The mob gathered outside, had already started attempts to break the wall surrounding the Society, in which they succeeded. Young residents of Gulberg Society fought the rioting mob very valiantly, and repelled them a number of times. But the amount of stone throwing, projectiles from the mob, and throwing of bottles filled with flammable materials continuously from all four sides was so much that a group of young boys could not withstand for long. One Mansuri, who was hit on his right eye, which eventually he lost, took shelter on the roof of a society bungalow. Another young boy, a student of law, elder son of Sairabanu and Salimbhai Sandhi, Mohammed, lost his life battling the rioting mob and trying to prevent them from entering in society. Within hours the shoulders of most of the young boys protecting their families and neighbours had started hurting so much, that they could no longer throw back the stones. But still they continued fighting the rioting mob which prevented the mob from entering into the society. By this time many families had taken shelter on the higher floor of my house and other multi-storeyed bungalows in the Society.

By afternoon, the little force which was the only resistance from the Society was totally exhausted, injured badly and some of them killed, and the mob started torching the vacant bungalows and killing people. They surrounded the bungalow of Ahsansahab and started throwing bottles filled with inflammable material such as petrol on it. As the fire started in the house, filling it with smoke, leaving the family of Kasambhai Mansuri completely unconscious, in one of the rooms of Ahsansahab house.

Meanwhile the rioting mobs slaughtered Anwar Bhai Pathak, three daughters of Family of Abu-Bakr, three sisters, a brother, mother and father of Feroze Gulzarbhai Pathan, Wife and Daughters of Electronic shop owner Mohammed Sharief, Akhter Pathan and his young wife.

Mob had already surrounded the bungalow of Ahsansahab. As told by survivors who were with my father, how he tried negotiating while standing on the front door of my house with the rioters to spare the young girls and senior citizens. Rioters filled with hate and violence, caught hold of Ahsansahab and pulled him out from the door.

They took him outside the society and put a burning tyre around his neck, dismembered his hands and legs and burned him on a pyre.

After killing Ahsansahab the leaders of the rioting mob left the society premises. It was around late afternoon. Smoke was coming out from all the bungalows of the Society.

Around late evening, police officers arrived at the Society. By this time the Society was in complete silence and there was no voice and any sound.  On hearing the audible voice after a deep silence, few survivors saw a police party, asking them to come out.

It was almost 12 hours later, and survivors were hiding without food and water since morning. Some survivors collected themselves and walked out in open and slowly others too came out from hiding.

My mother, Sairabehen Sandhi, Rupa ben, Anisha ben remember that moment narrating that the walked on the bodies of those who were martyred. They recollect and share the way and weapons which were used to martyr them.

The police patrol shifted them to the Dudheswar area of the city, which had an old Mughal era   mousleum with a big open space. For survivors, nowhere to go and devastated completely, it was a place to take shelter in the open, on the ground, as few buildings were already occupied by victims from other locations of the city.

I was in Surat at the time, staying with my family. I reached Ahmedabad on the third day from the date of the riots. I located my mother, who survived and was staying with a family friend. I contacted the authorities to locate the remains of my father and went to the Civil Hospital in Asarwa, Ahmedabad. Went to the Morgue, was shattered to see the bodies of victims burned alive. I tried, with the help of a doctor, to locate his remains, but was unsuccessful.

I talked with my mother and some other survivors, who were with her, located the spot he was last seen in by them, collected the ashes from the house and performed a respectable burial in the nearby community cemetery.

Legal Journey

It was very clear to all survivors that the state government was completely supporting the bandh and was responsible for the police inaction. Gulberg Society is located four kms from the office of Ahmedabad Police Commissioner. It will take not more than 10 minutes for a police van to reach. But the Police protection did not reach the society till late evening on that fateful day. All concerned IPS officers were aware, as my father had personally met one of them at the entrance of Gulberg Society on the morning of February 28, 2002.

It was crystal clear that the Chief Minister Modi was fully involved, otherwise such police inaction remains unexplained. This later became crystal clear from the affidavits submitted by IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt, who was then serving in the intelligence wing of Gujarat Police and was close confidant of slain BJP leader Haren Pandya. He has claimed in his affidavit that he was present in the meeting in which CM Modi has spoken in front of all IPS and IAS officers that rioting mobs be allowed to kill, destroy and loot the Muslims citizens of the state.

Many NGOs came forward to assist us in our legal fight to get justice and compensation. We invited NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). With strong legal experts and advocates from Ahmedabad, the survivors without any fear submitted the minutes by minutes’ account of what happened that day and mentioned names of the accused whom they saw killing, looting and burning.

Meanwhile, a few upright IPS officers from Gujarat Police started submitting in writing the information they had about the Gujarat riots in the Nanavati Shah Commission, appointed by Gujarat Government. The information revealed by them was directly pointing towards a larger conspiracy behind the massacre. Authentic Information which was now known to the general public started appearing in newspapers, with necessary documents as a proof in support of what was mentioned in Affidavits by them.

A CD was prepared by IPS officer Rahul Sharma which contained the details of all the phone calls made by Police personnel and the location of those senior Police officers when the riots were taking place.

All this clearly indicated that the police, even when they were aware about the massacre, did not reach those spots and instead remained away and inactive. A presence of Gujarat Government ministers in the Police Control Room was reported in the affidavit. It was also pointed out that the riots were not controlled as per police’s standard operation procedure which has been prepared by the police for use during communal riots.

CJP published a Citizens Tribunal report which was the evidence collected from the communal violence affected locations and which gave first hand reports from the eye witness and survivors in that area. It also contained the interview with Mr. Haren Pandya, who was the Home Minister.  Mr. Pandya had very clearly pointed out that the meetings were held with top brass of Gujarat Police and Intelligence personnel with CM Modi and in which, Mr. Modi himself has uttered the sentence stating that the Police should not stop the rioting mob and let the anger of majority community be vented out in the form of killing and looting or destroying of Muslim life and property.

All these and many more reports pointed out that the Gujarat massacre was added and abetted by the Gujarat government and the Police Department.

Zakia Jafri, my mother, along with CJP, then prepared a report, which contained information pointing towards the larger conspiracy and role of CM as well as senior ministers in his government. We submitted this report to the Police Department to file an FIR against the accused listed in the report. But this was rejected by the Police Department as well as the lower and high courts. We then approached the Supreme Court, which after hearing us, ordered the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for the further investigation.

The SIT submitted this report to the SC, and based on the SIT report and comments of Amicus Curiae senior advocate Mr. Ramachandran, the matter was heard in the magisterial court in Ahmedabad.

The magisterial court rejected our petition for filing an FIR in 2014. We then approached the High Court of Gujarat, which too rejected the petition in 2017, but allowed us to approach the lower court or SC for further investigation in the matter as demanded by our lawyers.

The matter is currently pending before the SC. In the last quarter of 2021, SC heard the senior advocate who appeared on our behalf, Mr. Kapil Sibal. The representation from both sides is over, and we await the final SC order in the matter.

*The author is the son of Ahsan Jafri, who was brutally killed during the Gulberg Society massacre when he tried to save the lives of the residents.

Related:

Prelude to the Carnage

Revisiting Godhra: Voices of survivors

On Memory and Surviving

Zakia Jafri and CJP: Still seeking justice for Gujarat 2002 victims and survivors

 

 

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