Saeed Umarji acknowledges that a conspiracy was indeed drawn up at his 95-year-old house.
“My grandfather was associated with India’s freedom movement and many meetings were held in this house,” said Umarji (34), a clean-shaven, amiable Deobandi, a follower of the influential seminary in UP. “We believed in the idea of India then, as we do now.”
In his spare, tiny office, Umerji, who runs a saw-mill, uses a webcam-equipped laptop to keep in touch with lawyers and journalists in Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai. He will soon know if his father, Maulana Hussein Umarji will be held guilty for being one of the main conspirators in the burning of coach S-6 of nearly nine years ago.
Umarji’s father was a well-known philanthropist, active in delivering relief to victims of the riots that followed Godhra; before that to victims of Gujarat’s earthquakes. Umarji said the Maulana was singled out by Modi when on April 4, 2002, he handed over a protest note to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Godhra.
“Yeh kya hai Maulana saab (What is this)?” asked Vajpayee, to which the Maulana pointed to Modi and, in a now famous response, said: “Inhi se puchiye, inke karname (Ask him about his deeds).”
On February 5, 2003, Umarji’s father was arrested after an 18-year-old with a criminal record said the Maulana had ordered the burning of coach S-6.
“If India’s judiciary can accept this as evidence, then even the PM can be implicated,” said Umarji.
Across Godhra, 134 men (including five teens) were arrested and charged with various roles in the attack on and burning of coach S-6. Eight-five are in jail. The rest are absconding, dead, on bail or released.
Over nine years the police have changed statements and charges . The police originally alleged an international conspiracy reaching into Pakistan. The use of draconian anti-terror laws was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2008. Some of the evidence is shaky, and much will depend on judge P R Patel’s interpretation.
In interviews across Godhra, Hindustan Times found suspects and families expressing faith in judge Patel.
“He is a sincere man, a good man,” said lawyer Abid Hussein Abdul Kareem Sheikh (34), one of 13 accused on bail. Charged with 10 counts of rioting, Sheikh said he was shoved into a cell when he went to inquire about those arrested. Court records showed Sheikh was working at a time when the police said he was arrested. “But how can the deaf hear,” he said.
“We don’t have faith in this state, but we have faith in the judge,” said Shoaib Jujara (32), a tailor whose father, a government clerk, is one of the accused.
Back at the 95-year-old Umarji home, the Maulana’s son is ready to appeal if the judgement goes against them.
“Father keeps asking, ‘what did I do wrong’?” said Umarji. “I tell him, ‘asking for justice was your biggest mistake’.”