The night of fiery insanity
Rathin Das brings alive that fateful night in March 2002 when Best Bakery in Gujarat was turned into an inferno.india Updated: Feb 25, 2006 14:38 IST
It was a night to remember -- for all the wrong reasons.
The date: March 1, 2002. Place: Godhra. The incident: A mayhem. An orgy of violence brought out by hatred and rabid fanaticism.
A demented mob of over 3,000 had responded to the VHP bandh called after the death of 58 people in the Godhra train inferno on February 27.
Though the Best Bakery had been functioning in the mixed locality of Hanuman Tekri for several years, it instantly became the eye of a frenzied storm. The revenge-seekers singled it out to avenge the Godhra carnage.
The mob stormed the modest bakery razing everything they came across with burning logs as some of Seherunnisa's extended family ran for cover to the terrace. The firewood was ammunition enough for the rioters to torch the house where 14 people, including two Hindu employees, were trapped.
Zahira Sheikh -- the leading lady of the Best Bakery legal drama that ensued -- hid on the terrace with her mother, brother and sister-in-law to escape the licking tongues.
Soon, the entire ground floor was a burning mass. Thick columns of smoke billowing out the bakery reduced visibility.
The riotous mob soldiered on the night long. One of the eyewitnesses said the rioters asked the bakery workers assembled on the terrace to come down. When they did so, their hands and feet were tied and they were pushed back inside the burning premises.
The police arrived next morning, by when 14 people were charred to death. The shaken survivors counted their blessings on the terrace.
A quick body count and the police registered a case. Twenty one people were named accused. The trial was mired in controver sy with several witnesses turning hostile.
The prosecution by the Fast Track court conducted by the state government counsel tilted heavily in favour of the accused. So went the charge. And all the 21 accused were acquitted for want of sufficient evidence.
But justice could not be denied. Mumbai-based social activist Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which moved the Supreme Court that ordered the retrial outside Gujarat.