“The firing by Jafri played a pivotal role in inciting the mob” – CM Modi, allegedly the chief architect of the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, speaking on the Gulberg Society massacre where former MP Ahsan Jafri was burned alive along with 68 others. (Statement reported by the Hindustan Times, 2nd March 2002).
Firing by former lawmaker Ehsan Jafri, one of the 69 victims of the Gulberg Society massacre in Gujarat in 2002, "acted as a catalyst and infuriated the mob" that killed him, said Judge P. B. Desai on 17th June 2016, while sentencing 11 of the attackers to life in jail and 13 others to lesser terms. (Statement reported by NDTV, The Hindu, etc.)
The special court has finally delivered its verdict on the Gulberg Society massacre carried out by Hindu terrorists in Gujarat in 2002, as part of the alleged state-machinery aided, Government abetted (“Hindus must be allowed to vent their anger on Muslims”, the then CM and now Prime Minister Narendra Modi had apparently instructed the state bureaucracy) Muslim genocide. A decade and a half after the incident, after going through a wealth of evidence and after examining many witnesses, the court has come to the same conclusion which was proclaimed by Modi a few days after the massacre; that the responsibility of triggering the tragedy lay with one man - Ehsan Jafri, the first of the victims who were lynched to death by hindutva fanatics on that fateful day!
The judgement noted that the mob was involved only in stone pelting and damaging properties belonging to the members of the minority community, but that once Jafri started to fire, the mob turned violent and indulged in a massacre of men, women and children of the minority community. Nothing could be farther from the ground situation. We all know what the Gujarat riots were, and how orchestrated the ethnic cleansing of Muslims was. This observation by the court does not take into consideration the entirety of the Gujarat riots. If it can be argued that Jafri had indeed fired at the mob which incited them, how would one explain the more ghastly killings that took place elsewhere in Gujarat during these riots, which were clearly well-organized? For example, who incited the mob at Naroda Patya? And more importantly, if the only intentions of the mob at Gulberg Society were stone-pelting and arson, how did they get their swords as soon as Jafri “began firing”?
Whether Jafri actually fired, is still debated. According to a Times of India (Ahmedabad) report dated 9th June 2002, ‘highly reliable police sources’ had confirmed that Jafri had not fired a single round. Recounting the incident, the report says, “Jafri had always thought of himself as a man who had respect in society. So, around 3.00 p.m., he came down once again to the gate of the housing society to appeal to the mob to disperse. In what as a gamble that failed, he suggested that the mob take him but leave others in the society alone. The mob readily complied: it got hold of Jafri and killed him in gory fashion. By 3.30 p.m., everything was over.” (Nevertheless, when the siege ended, the rioters had carried out numerous rapes and around 69 persons hacked to death or burnt alive, including Jafri).The claim that Jafri had fired was first made in the chargesheet of the case, which was then parroted by Narendra Modi and later by the Special Investigation Team, which has now been lent credence by the verdict. This claim was not supported by any eye-witness in the court. It is a different thing that even if Jafri had actually fired in self-defence, it does not amount to a crime under the Indian Penal Code.
The court also stated that the mob had gathered spontaneously following rumors that several people were killed in Jafri’s firing. This is contrary to the FIR (no. 4/5/200) itself, which records that from about 7.00-7.30 a.m. onwards, a mob had gathered in the area and had started attacking Muslim-owned establishments. Though the police dispersed them, they reassembled around 1.00-.30 pm armed with swords, sticks, pipes and kerosene, shouting “Jai Shri Ram”. The mob then went on a rampage, burning and looting shops. The police failed to disperse them this time. They entered Gulberg Society from the back and started stoning and burning property and people. The FIR states that it was at this stage that there was private firing by Muslims (if at all there was any firing in reality), and not the other way round as stated by the court. The court has also slammed the ‘selective amnesia’ of eyewitnesses for stating the truth about not noticing any firing from Jafri’s weapon!
The court also ruled out negligence or inaction on the part of the police, saying that the limited police force had no means to disperse the mob. However, the Meghani Nagar police station, under whose jurisdiction Gulberg Society falls, had 130 police personnel on the day of the incident, but armed only with teargas shells. When a huge and heavily-armed mob assembled, the police should have been supported with arms and reinforcement force, especially after Jafri had personally met and appraised the then police commissioner, P. C. Pande at around 10.30 a.m. on the day of the massacre, of the explosive situation. Though Pande assured help, it was never delivered. Moreover, Jafri had also met M. K. Tandon at 1.30 p.m., as the latter arrived at the gate of Gulberg Society. Tandon promised to rush reinforcement force, and fled the scene. Whether he had fled on his own or was asked to leave by ‘higher ups’ is something that can be arrived at only by a careful analysis of the phone records, which were ignored by the court. This doubt is further deepened by the aforementioned Times of India article which quotes a top source as saying, “Tandon made a blunder. If he had stuck on at the society, the very presence of the joint commissioner would have deterred the mob.”
After all, the observations that the Gulberg Society massacre was “not pre-planned” and the fact that only 24 people were convicted out of the 66 chargesheeted from the massive mob that raped several women, plundered and burned a number of shops and homes and butchered 69 people are insignificant in comparison to the court’s remark that Modi and his state government took all necessary steps to control law and order during the riots!
[The author is a PR professional and freelance writer based in Dubai.]