There’s a secret report “hundreds of pages long” that is now with the Chief Justice of India in New Delhi, and when its contents emerge — perhaps in the course of a trial next month — it will reveal India’s resolve to bring justice to one of its most divisive carnages: The Gujarat riots of 2002.
“I am satisfied with what I have done,” R.K. Raghavan (68), head of the Supreme Court’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) — set up in April 2008 due to Gujarat’s reluctance to investigate and prosecute officials, politicians and rioters — told Hindustan Times.
After seven years of delays, often deliberate, and attempts to hide evidence, slow and hard-fought progress is evident:
n On March 6, the Supreme Court will start hearing a plea for the registration of a first information report (FIR) against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 70 others for allegedly “helping rioters”.
n Last week, a letter sent to the Supreme Court from the SIT said the death toll could now officially rise from 832 to 1,180, as the missing people are considered dead — this after seven years.
n On February 13, the Gujarat High Court ruled that charges of terrorism could not be applied to 116 men — all Muslims — accused of setting the Sabarmati Express on fire on February 27, 2002, in Godhra, the event that started the riots.
The court order meant that all the Godhra suspects were eligible for bail: Only 19 got bail in seven years, while four died in jail. For the riots that followed, in the cases being investigated by the SIT, 625 men were arrested — nearly all Hindu — of whom 442 are out on bail.
On the eve of the general elections, a Hindustan Times team of journalists journeyed across Gujarat to revisit nine of the worst riots of 2002. We found that while on the surface, daily life had moved on in economically shining Gujarat, resignation, disappointment and deep sorrow ran deep in riot-ravaged families and communities.
We also found hope, largely centred around the SIT and the Supreme Court.
“We were very hopeful [when the Supreme Court set up the SIT on April 18, 2008],” said Imtiaz Qureishi (34), a victim and witness at Ahmedabad’s Naroda Gam. “Earlier, we were afraid that only the small fry would get arrested, while the conspirators would go scot-free.”
But that hope can swiftly sink because the SIT hasn’t made it past the “small fry” — at least in its actions.
Ten months after the SIT got going, two top Sangh Parivar leaders — Minister of State for Women and Child Develop-ment Dr Maya Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Dr Jaideep Patel, accused in the Naroda Gam killings — are out on anticipatory bail.
The only high-ranking police officer to be arrested for alleged involvement in mass killing is Deputy Superinten-dent of Police K.G. Erda, in the Gulberg Society massacre, despite critical cellphone records and hundreds of eyewitness accounts implicating dozens of officers and politicians.
The only others arrested are a police inspector and a retired inspector.