Shakeela Banu remembers the day vividly. How can she forget February 28, 2002? On that day, Naroda Patiya, a nondescript colony in Ahmedabad resembled a gigantic bonfire hungry for bone and flesh. Mobs gathered on the main road's Noorani Masjid and then roamed its labyrinthine bylanes shouting slogans of Jai Shri Ram; swords and trishuls firmly in hand. The sharp-edged weapons were used to wound and the fire to char the bodies; many beyond recognition. Among the 95 hapless Muslims that the fire devoured were Shakeela's mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law and two young nieces and nephews; the children flung into the blaze like little pieces of driftwood.Eight members of Shakeela's family had been hounded to death and 10 years later, what makes it worse is the fact that their neighbours had turned bloodthirsty and done them in. Naroda Patiya, a locality with an equal mix of Hindus and Muslims had bled the most and Shakeela's heart still bleeds. She remembers the day death had visited them and she shudders. The neighbours-turned-murderers have been out on bail and every day one of the 300 witnesses, who stood steadfast and testified in court, is being threatened. Judgement day is drawing nearer and the threats and intimidation are increasing with each hour that brings them closer to June 30, when judge Jyotsana Yagnik will deliver a verdict on the 62 accused.
The list of accused tells the grisly story of 2002 and gives a clear anatomy of the riots. Amongst them is one of Narendra Modi's ministers – Mayaben Kodnani, the local MLA from the area who was, in 2007, made the minister of state in charge of women and child development. Then, there is her personal assistant, Kirpal Singh, so smug on power, he thought he might never be booked for accompanying the minister and distributing lethal weapons. There is also the former Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi who had gloated over how he ripped apart the pregnant Kaiser Bano's stomach and pulled out her nine-month-old foetus. And of course there are the neighbours and accomplices of Kodnani from Naroda Patiya who brought her back to power with the largest victory margin – 1.8 lakh votes – in 2007.
But more than the political margin, the distinction that victims draw attention to is the hospital Kodnani ran as a qualified gynaecologist. But on February 28, this giver of life gave birth to deep-seated hatred and sowed the seeds of revenge. The special court, designated by the Supreme Court, heard it in the words of Siddique Mansoor, an eye witness who deposed in court despite the lure of a better life and when that didn't work, a kidnapping and the direct threat of, "We'll kill you if you speak about Mayaben". But Mansoor said it all in court and recounted how he had seen Kodnani order her PA Kirpal Singh to distribute swords, tridents and jerry cans full of kerosene. And then the instigation when she said, "Our Hindu brothers have been killed. We have to avenge their deaths. Kill the 'miyas'. I am with you. There will be no police enquiry".
Kodnani's promise went half-kept. The Naroda Patiya case was initially investigated by the state crime branch, which did not make her an accused on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence against her. Her name made it to the list of accused only after the Supreme Court transferred nine riot cases, including Naroda Patiya, to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2008. Kodnani was not the only recipient of the largesse of the local police. The subversion of justice ran deep and wide. Circumstances were ranged against the victims from day one when the naked dance of death gripped the locality. Scores have testified to how the Special Reserve Police (SRP) whose camp was a stone's throw from Muslim homes had turned the women and children away, refusing to give them shelter and lathi charging and tear gassing them instead. They have testified to how the police inspector KK Mysorewala had sided with the mob and saluted Kodnani as she exhorted the mob to kill. Despite several testimonies, Mysorewala has not been listed as an accused; a battle, activist Teesta Setalwad has taken to the Supreme Court. The victims were willing to tell their stories to anyone who cared but help had not come on February 28 even though the Ahmedabad Police Headquarter is located a mere four kms away. "No one came to tame the execution squad that killed 95 in a matter of hours," says NGO, Jan Sangharsh Manch's Mukul Sinha.
Even afterwards, the subversion continued. The police did not annexe the testimonies of the victims to the chargesheet. Cruelly, the police did not pursue the allegations of rape even though survivors reported it and despite the fact that at least one postmortem report indicated sexual assault. Worse, autopsies on 41 bodies were not carried out. The list of omissions is endless – a mobile, dropped by one of the accused and handed over to the police, was not investigated; the police did not probe fire-arm injuries and investigate the larger question of where the guns were procured from; nor did they make any effort to analyse the call records of the accused.
If they had – the anatomy of the riot would have been laid bare. Rahul Sharma, SP Bhavnagar, who had deftly controlled the rioters in his district and saved 500 school children, officially called for the call details, which he submitted to the Nanavati Commission. The officer has now been chargesheeted by the government, but the log is a chilling piece of evidence – the accused were in touch with each other, with the chief minister's office and the Minister of State for Home, Gordan Zadaphia. Why should Jaideep Patel, the general secretary of the VHP, have been in touch with Babu Bajrangi? Why was the MLA in constant touch with the VHP general secretary and what was Kodnani doing, being in regular contact with the other accused? The log nailed Kodnani's fate and sealed the lie that the crime branch had chosen to buy – that she was in Gandhinagar on February 28. The SIT, which also finally got seven witness testimonies, was forced to arrest her though it did not oppose her bail when it was granted.
The court will now give its verdict on Kodnani, Bajrangi and the other accused but relief is not a sentiment that marks the victims of Naroda Patiya. Most of them have been living under police protection since the trial began in 2009 and many are now planning to move out of home for fear that the neighbours will seek a second revenge. Shamshad Khan Pathan, advocate for the victims, is being inundated with requests for more security. But there is one person who is definitely leaving. Shakeela Banu will be escorting her daughter, who is eight months pregnant, to a dargah. The pain of having lost eight members in 2002 still hits her like a stab. Fresh too are memories of Kaiser Bano's stomach being ripped open and the foetus being wrenched out.