Six years after Godhra and its horrific aftermath, thousands of people in Gujarat are yet to emerge from the ruins of their lives. It is in acknowledgement of this that the Supreme Court has ordered a fresh probe by a special investigative team that will be headed by a retired officer from outside the state. The apex court is taking no chances of any subversion of justice this time. It has instituted a bench to monitor the new investigation and fixed strict schedules for both the formation of the team and its report. Even with this team that will take up 14 cases, the wounds of Gujarat will take very long to heal. But the important thing is that a judicial system has ground into motion to give voice to the voiceless. It is also a strong signal to the state’s administration that the earlier investigations were not enough.
The inclusion of officers from outside the state in the team is to ensure that vested interests are not able to tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses. It was fearing this that the Best Bakery and the Bilkis Bano cases were shifted out of the state. By choosing a state police officer like Gita Johri who has fearlessly spoken out against officers in her own force for cover-ups, the team clearly hopes to instill confidence in the victims and witnesses. It has also done away with a great deal of bureaucracy in allowing witnesses to submit evidence in writing, thereby further eliminating fears of intimidation and harassment by the local police or politicians. Many cases like that of Naroda Patiya and the Ehsan Jaffri case where the former MP was killed in full view of his locality fell by the wayside after the concerted attempts made by the local police to destroy evidence and turn away witnesses. At the same time, many accused were able to get away by using spurious alibis or by intimidating witnesses.
If the team is able to conclude its work satisfactorily, much confidence will be restored not only in the Gujarat administration but in Indian democracy as a whole. But the strongest message that this reinvestigation conveys is that the guilty and their benefactors cannot take it for granted that they will not be brought to book.