Not too far from where a Gujarat government-appointed panel cleared the same government over the 2002 Godhra train burning, the elderly dentist leaned back in his clinic off the busy Ahmedabad street and paused for a moment of restless silence. He had told his life’s story. He now announced the verdict.
“This is why people take to terrorism, because there is no justice for Muslims here,” said Dr Yunus Mohammed Usman Bhavnagri. He is being prosecuted for firing in self-defence at the mob that shot and wounded his son — but went unpunished — a day after the Godhra train burning.
Bhavnagri was the first Muslim to depose before the Nanavati Commission, whose report into the train burning — which set off one of India’s worst-ever cycles of religious rioting — was made public on Thursday.
The doctor’s view, which resonates through parts of the Muslim community, could be seen by some as a cruel rationalisation of killings of innocent civilians.
But the cynicism that riot-hit Muslims overwhelmingly have for the justice process is rooted in truth.
India has one of the poorest records in punishing those guilty for killing people in the name of religion. There is no closure for families as cases have lingered on for more than 20 years — festering angst and hatred against the establishment.
The Supreme Court ordered the re-opening of 2,000 Gujarat riot cases in 2004. Of these merely 184 cases are currently in courts and only two major cases have been decided so far — the Best Bakery massacre, in which 14 people were burnt alive in Baroda, and the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case in Dahod.
On Thursday, the 58-year-old dentist laughed as he heard Nanavati report’s contents, taking a break from a patient.
“This is no surprise — we knew all along what the report was going to say,” he said.