Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002
An inquiry into the carnage in Gujarat
(Incidents and Evidence)
The Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002, was conceived as a response to the carnage that rocked the state of Gujarat following the Godhra tragedy on February 27, 2002. The eight-member Tribunal was constituted in consultation with a large number of groups from within Gujarat and the rest of the country. A copy of its terms of reference and a list of the groups urging that such a People’s Inquiry be launched is annexed hereto and marked as Annexure 1.
The Tribunal collected 2,094 oral and written testimonies, both individual and collective, from victim-survivors and also independent human rights groups, women’s groups, NGOs and academics. The documentation work done by relief camp managers and community leaders, from lists of persons killed or ‘missing’, to the meticulous tabulation of economic loss and religious desecration, is unprecedented and immense. The Tribunal has benefited greatly from these and they are being published in a separate volume of annexures to our report. In addition, over one dozen detailed fact-finding reports and inquiries were placed before the Tribunal and we have benefited greatly from a close scrutiny of these. We have also collected photographs, copies of FIRs, audio- and video-tapes, as evidence. The sheer volume of the evidence on record took an enormous amount of time and human resources to sift through and evaluate. Yet, as in all human endeavours, there may be deficiencies in the report. For these, we plead extenuation and understanding as unlike in case of official inquiries, it has been voluntary commitment from a whole team that has enabled the completion of this report.
The Tribunal pays tribute to the victim-survivors, individually and collectively, who deposed before us at great risk to their person in the simple hope that one day justice will be done and the guilty be punished. Even as the Tribunal sat in Ahmedabad, there were threats and premises like the circuit house at Shahibaug were denied us due to the omnipresence of prowling mobs. We acknowledge our great debt to the activists on the ground who worked day and night to bring the victims and reliable eyewitnesses to us.
After recording evidence, visiting sites, placing on record statements and collecting other relevant material, the Tribunal arrived at some prima facie conclusions. These
were forwarded along with our recommendations to both the central and state governments and their views were awaited. However, the Tribunal regrets that neither the state government nor the central government, or individual ministers to whom request letters were sent, responded. Though we are entitled to draw adverse conclusions from this lack of response, because that they did not respond to the interim findings, we do not propose to do so.
However, many senior government officials and police officers did agree to meet the Tribunal, responded to our queries, shared insightful observations and presented some valuable evidence to us. One minister also appeared and deposed before us. The Tribunal had assured this witness (minister) and other officials that their anonymity would be protected. Hence, while their valuable evidence is reflected in the Findings of the report, they have not been identified. Anonymity was urged especially because of the fear of reprisal from political bosses if names became known.
The Tribunal has independently accessed volumes of material that helped us arrive at our final Findings and Recommendations. The Interim findings and Recommendations are annexed as Annexure 6, Volume 1.
In a democracy, the people’s right to information should be paramount. Any government wedded to this basic right should have eagerly cooperated in the effort of a citizen’s tribunal to inquire and let the people know what happened in Gujarat, who engineered the carnage, and who the guilty are.
The Tribunal undertook this huge task as part of the exercise of this fundamental human freedom. The health of any society lies not in denials and half-truths when grave injustices have occurred, but in courageously admitting to them, righting those wrongs with justice and then reconciliation. That both the government of Gujarat and the government of India did not participate in the inquiry reveals their utter disregard for the people’s basic democratic right to know.
Having completed its task, it is with humility that the Tribunal presents this report to the country and the world. Even as we complete our task, we know and recognise that our country’s record in the matter of punishment of the guilty in cases of mass crimes, against the minorities, against Dalits, and against the poor has been pathetic. Yet, with hope that is eternal to the human condition, we do present this report in the belief that, this time, knowing the truth will help us chalk a future that is radically different.
The sorry state of the rule of law in the country is closely connected to the functioning and accountability of our courts, and the criminal justice system is crying out for radical reform. We hope that with justice to the victim-survivors, these reforms will become a matter of urgent political debate.
The Tribunal would like to express its gratitude to justice GG Loney (retd) who participated in some sittings of the Tribunal. The panel also benefited from the insights provided by justice PD Desai (former CJ Mumbai, Kolkata and Himachal Pradesh High Court) who met us in Ahmedabad, and over lengthy discussions, enhanced our understanding and grasp of the situation.
The setting up and the functioning of the Tribunal was made possible due to the Citizens for Justice and Peace, an association of committed citizens from all walks of life, from Mumbai and Ahmedabad, who came together to garner support for the fight for justice, post-carnage. The Tribunal acknowledges its huge debt to this group that felt duty and conscience bound to support and make possible such a Citizen’s Inquiry.
The committed team from Sabrang Communications and Publishing, Mumbai, ably handled the secretariat of the Tribunal. Dr Uma Sheth and Rashmi contributed of their time generously. Their responsibilities included coordinating the schedules of the Tribunal in Ahmeabad and from it’s districts– its sittings, recording of evidence, translating and transcribing the evidence and handling voluminous material. Then came the task of deliberations on the evidence by the panel which constituted the Tribunal and finalising this report.
During the Tribunal hearings, the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Mumbai, Prashant, Ahmedabad, and PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan, Vadodara, provided able support for the Tribunal’s hearings.
The panel that constituted the Tribunal pays a humble tribute to all the hapless and innocent victims of the ghastly Gujarat carnage. We dedicate this report to them and to their surviving relatives. And also to each one of those women and men who, at great risk to their person, provided succour and helped expose the truth.
VR Krishna Iyer