The Best Bakery case in Vadodara, in which 14 people were burnt alive, was one of the two cases related to the 2002 riots which were re-probed and the trial shifted outside Gujarat after the intervention of the Supreme Court. The other was the Bilkis Bano rape and murder case.
Among the most gruesome massacres of the Gujarat riots, the Best Bakery case has often come to symbolise the brutality of the carnage during the post-Godhra riots, in which around 1,200 people were killed.
On Monday, the Mumbai HC verdict evoked a mixed response in Gujarat.
While all that Gujarat government spokesperson and health minister Jaynarayan Vyas had to say was, “No comment”, activist Fr Cedric Prakash called it “partial justice”.
“Now, if the Gujarat government believes in delivering justice to victims, it must challenge the acquittal of the five accused, in the Supreme Court,” said activist Shabnam Hashmi.
Of all the cases related to the 2002 riots, this one has taken the most exasperating twists.
A day after the bakery was burnt down by a mob on March 1, 2002, the owner’s 18-year-old daughter Zaheera Sheikh lodged a police complaint against 21 accused.
In June 2003, a fast track court acquitted all the accused, citing lack of evidence, as key witnesses, including Sheikh, turned hostile. The trial court blamed the police for delay in filing the FIR, and shoddy probe, which led to the acquittal.
After the Gujarat HC upheld the verdict in December, the SC termed the acquittal “miscarriage of justice”. It then ordered re-investigation and re-trial and moved the case to Maharashtra.
After reinvestigation, the trial court in Mumbai sentenced nine of the 21 accused for life and acquitted eight while four are yet to be arrested.
In a rare instance, the SC had sentenced prime witness Sheikh to one year in prison for perjury.
“It’s heartening to know that justice is slowly happening in cases related to the 2002 riots. The prosecution agency must challenge the acquittal in the Supreme Court,” said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Jayantilal Parmar.