Zakia Jafri Fights On: Revisiting Gujarat Riots And SIT’s Clean Chit To Narendra Modi

11, Nov 2021 | Tejas Joshi

Zakia Jafri, widow of slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, has challenged the SIT’s clean chit to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

After repeated adjournments for over 2 years, the Apex Court late last month started hearing one of the most important matters that involves the top political leader of the country- PM Narendra Modi.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday continued to hear for the third consecutive day the petition filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of slain Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, challenging the Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Ms. Jafri, has informed the court that her case concerned “larger conspiracy” involving “bureaucratic inaction, police complacency and conspired, directed unleashing of violence”.

Mr Sibal, arguing on October 26 in this matter, told the top court:


Let’s take a look at the events that transpired almost 20 years back post Godhra riots, the Gulbarg society massacre in which Ehsan Jafri was killed, and the SIT probe report that gave clean chit to then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and his top officials.

Gujarat riots

The burning of a train in Godhra on 27 February 2002, which caused the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, reportedly incited one of the worst communal riots the country has witnessed seen since independence.

A total of 58 “karsevaks” were killed in the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002. (Indian Express)

According to official figures, the riots ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu. Many brutal killings and rapes were reported on as well as widespread looting and destruction of property. Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and later Prime Minister of India, was accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as were police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim-owned properties to them.

Instances of mass violence included the Naroda Patiya massacre that took place directly adjacent to a police training camp; the Gulbarg Society massacre where Ehsan Jafri, a former parliamentarian, was among those killed; and several incidents in Vadodara city.

Gulbarg society massacre & death of Ehsan Jafri

On February 28, 2002, a mob of several thousand people gathered outside the Gulbarg society, a middle and upper middle class residential colony in north Ahmedabad.

Eventually, the houses were set on fire one after another. The residents sought shelter at Jafri’s bungalow. However, rioters did not spare even his bungalow and torched it, killing 69 people, including the former parliamentarian, who kept pleading for help from the administration for hours. Ms. Zakia, who had hidden on a room on the first floor, survived the attack.

Victims of Gulbarg society massacre mourning outside their burnt houses.

On June 17, 2016, almost 14 years after the massacre, the trial court delivered its verdict in the Gulbarg Society case. The court convicted 24 persons and awarded life sentences to 11 accused, 10-year imprisonment to one accused and a seven-year sentence to 12. The trial court described the killings as the “darkest day in the history of civil society of Gujarat.” The trial court and the SIT held that the massacre was prompted by firing from Ehsan Jafri’s weapon from his bungalow.

Ms Jafri, now over 80, has been fighting for justice ever since she first approached the police in 2006.

SIT probe and clean chit 

Post Gujarat riots, the NHRC had filed the petition in 2003 to transfer cases outside the state over faulty probe by the local police and the government’s apathy to take action against the erring policemen. It was following a prolonged hearing that in 2008, the apex court had ordered an SIT probe into eight major cases including Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam, Gulberg Society, among others.

On February 8, 2012, the SIT filed a closure report giving a clean chit to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and 63 others, including senior government officials, saying there was “no prosecutable evidence” against them. Both a magistrate’s court and the Gujarat high court had later upheld the SIT’s report.

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi interacting with reporters after questioning by the SIT.

However, Ms Jafri’s case is not the same as the Gulberg Society case. While the latter deals only with the massacre that took place at Gulberg Society, Zakia Jafri’s case is an pin criminal and administrative liability and accountability in approximately 300 incidents over 19 districts of Gujarat in 2002.

The other petitioner in the case is Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human rights group led by activist Teesta Setalvad.

Not satisfied with SIT probe

Representing Ms Jafri in the SC, Kapil Sibal has argued that though all the evidence submitted to the SIT merited a thorough probe, yet a closure report was filed without proper investigation. He also argued that the magistrate refused to look into the matter of the larger conspiracy.

Mr Sibal, in an earlier hearing, had argued: “My lords, our case was that there was a larger conspiracy at play, where there was bureaucratic inaction, police complicity, hate speech and a conspired directed unleashing of violence. The Magistrate said I won’t look at it because the supreme court prevents me from doing that and only look at the Gulberg society case.”

Sibal’s emotional appeal & Tehelka tapes

In today’s hearing in the Apex court , Mr Sibal got emotional talking about the dangers of communal violence and recalled that he had lost his maternal grandparents in the violence during the aftermath of partition, Live Law reported.

Mr Sibal argued that the SIT did not arrest any accused persons, record their statements, seize their phones, or conducted spot visits. He highlighted that the SIT ignored the tapes of the sting operation done by Tehalka magazine, in which many persons had given open statements about their participation in the violence and accumulation of weapons and bombs.

Although the same tapes were used for conviction in the Naroda Patya case, and although the Gujarat High Court had endorsed the authenticity of the tapes, the SIT ignored them in Zakia Jafri’s complaint. Mr Sibal submitted that the SIT did not even seize the phones of the persons in the sting tapes and gather their call data records.

“In Naroda Patya case, the man was convicted on the basis of these sting tapes. But qua other cases, these tapes are not considered”, Mr Sibal said, adding that it was a “disturbing and disconcerting” omission by the SIT.

Mr Sibal also read out portions from the transcripts of Tehalka report to contend that they showed the conspiracy by members of Bajrang Dal, VHP and Sangh Parivar to stockpile weapons, to make diesel and pipe bombs and to import ammunitions from other states prior to February 27, 2002. He argued that the tapes suggested conspiracy to smuggle dynamite bombs to Ahmedabad from quarry operated by a VHP worker. These aspects not investigated by the SIT, Mr Sibal added.

Another headache for Modi government

Amid the times when the centre is facing ire of the top court in cases like Pegasus snooping and Lakhimpur Kheri incident, Ms Jafri’s petition and regular hearings in SC come as another headache for Mr Modi-led central government.

Ms Jafri’s appeal to revisit the SIT probe and investigate the tragedy in detail for the larger conspiracy may have serious implications for the clean image of Mr Modi, who has, on occasions, denied the allegations of inaction and indirect encouragement during the riots.

The court will continue hearing the matter tomorrow.

The original piece may be read here


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