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'No Justice': Naroda Gam Survivors as Court Acquits 69 Accused in Gujarat Riots

The accused include former BJP MLA Maya Kodnani, ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, and VHP's Jaydeep Patel.

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"I saw them (rioters) burn to death five people, including a 10-year-old girl, in front of my eyes. I remember their faces, the clothes they were wearing, and the weapons they were carrying. You're telling me nobody killed those people?" asked Imtiaz Qureshi, 35, a survivor of the Naroda Gam massacre in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

On Thursday, 20 April, a special court in Ahmedabad acquitted 69 accused, including former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Maya Kodnani, former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaydeep Patel in the case in which 11 people were killed.

Qureshi, also a witness in the case, lost his ancestral home and a printing press in the violence.

"When riots broke out in our locality, we ran to save our lives. My wife and my son who was just four years old then, were not with me when we left. For the longest time, I had no idea if they were dead or alive. I only found them later at a relief camp," Qureshi told The Quint over the phone as he expressed his disbelief at the court's verdict.
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Unlike Qureshi, Sharif Malek, another survivor of the massacre, said he was not surprised by the court's judgement. "What kind of justice do you expect from the courts when the riots are sponsored by those in power?" alleged Malek, who was also a witness in the case.

In 2002, Malek who was only 19 at the time, lost his house which he claimed was burnt down by the rioters. "Violence broke out in Naroda just three days before my sister was to get married. Our house was reduced to ashes as we watched. And today, the court told us that nobody actually did that," he said over the phone.

What's The Case?

On 28 February, 2002, 11 people were killed after a mob set their houses on fire in a locality called the Muslim Maholla in the Naroda Gam area of Gujarat's Ahmedabad.

86 people were accused and an FIR was filed at the Naroda police station under multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including section 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), and 153 (provocation for riots).

Of the 86 accused in the Naroda Gam case, 17 of these accused during the course of the trial, leaving 69. Nearly 182 prosecution witnesses were examined in the case.

The Justice Nanavati Commission report on the Gujarat riots, documented the statements of witnesses as saying that “there was no police help received by the Muslims and they were simply at the mercy of the miscreants”, and that police help arrived only in the evening.

Several police officials, however, deposed before the Commission that they were not able to reach Naroda Gam because they were managing the more serious situation at Naroda Patiya, just one km from Naroda Gam.

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'A Black Spot on The Judiciary'

Speaking to The Quint, advocate Shamshad Pathan, one of the lawyers representing the victims, said, "The judgement is shameful to say the least. Are we trying to tell the witnesses and victims that nobody killed their relatives or burnt their homes? The case has already dragged on for more than 20 years and even after that we couldn't deliver justice."

The Naroda Gam trial started in 2009, seven years after the riots.

Ten sessions cases were registered for trial — nine in 2009 and one in 2010, with a total 86 accused. In 2013, three accused — Kodnani, Bajrangi, and Kishan Korani — asked that designated judge Jyotsna Yagnik recuse herself from the case because she had convicted them in the Naroda Patiya case. The court rejected their application. By then 181 witnesses had been examined, and the court had noted that the trial is at the “fag end”.

In September 2017, BJP leader (who is now Union Home Minister) Amit Shah appeared as a defence witness for Kodnani.

Among the evidence produced by the prosecution was the video of a sting operation carried out by journalist Ashish Khetan as well as call details of Kodnani, Bajrangi and others during the relevant period.

Kodnani, who was a minister in the then Gujarat government, was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in jail in the Naroda Patiya riot case where 97 people were massacred. She was later discharged by the Gujarat High Court.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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