On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of Congress leader Ehsan Jafri’s widow, Zakia Jafri, against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others, including officials and politicians, in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. She wanted “the larger conspiracy” behind the riots probed.
A three-judge bench said the appeal was devoid of merit and upheld the decisions of the Metropolitan Magistrate and later the High Court to accept the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team or SIT’s clean chit to PM Modi and others.
The top court has praised the SIT and pulled up the appellant for “bordering on undermining the integrity and sincerity of investigators”. The court has also talked about “some disgruntled Gujarat officials and others trying to create a sensation by making false revelations to keep the pot boiling for ulterior designs”. The bench has gone on to say that those involved in such “abuse of process need to be in the dock and face law”.
Before we get into Zakia Jafri’s case, here is a quick recap of the Gujarat riots.
THE GUJARAT RIOTS
On February 27, 2002, 58 people died when a coach of the Sabarmati Express carrying karsevaks returning from Ayodhya was burnt in Gujarat’s Godhra. This triggered large-scale rioting across the state, forcing the central government to send in Army troops.
This was one of the worst communal violence in India in which 1,044 people, including 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, were killed, according to official estimates.
Rapes and looting and destruction of property — burning of homes and shops — were also reported. About 2 lakh people were displaced.
Many of them could not go back to their homes and resettled in new neighbourhoods.
ZAKIA JAFRI CASE
A day after the Sabarmati Express’s burning, Ahmedabad’s housing complex Gulbarg Society was attacked by a mob that killed 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri. Gulbarg Society was a cluster of bungalows and apartment buildings where mostly Muslims lived. Naroda Patiya and Best Bakery were other places where mass killings occurred.
In 2006, Zakia Jafri urged the Gujarat Police to file an FIR against some officials and politicians, including Modi, who was then the state chief minister. She alleged that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots and save people, including her husband.
In 2008, the apex court appointed an SIT to submit a report on the riots trials and also probe Jafri’s complaint.
In 2012, the SIT gave a clean chit to Modi and others, citing “no prosecutable evidence” and submitted its closure report to the Magistrate.
In 2013, Jafri filed a petition opposing the closure report. The Magistrate upheld the SIT’s closure report and dismissed her plea.
She moved the Gujarat High Court which also upheld, in 2017, the Magistrate’s decision. Modi had become PM in 2014.
In 2018, Jafri and activist Teesta Setalvad approached the top court, saying the SIT did not examine all the material available, its investigation was biased, and investigators themselves should face a probe.
During the hearing, the state of Gujarat denied the charges and said Setalvad, who herself allegedly embezzled money donated for the welfare of riot victims, was behind Jafri’s petition.
In 2022, the top court upheld the SIT investigation after reserving its verdict the previous year.
PM MODI’S NAME
Jafri and Setalvad’s lawyer Kapil Sibal had argued the allegations against Modi were based on those former Gujarat police officer Sanjiv Bhat, who claimed to be present at a crucial government meeting, had levelled. The SIT had concluded Bhatt was not at the meeting and hence, there was no other way to confirm the charges. And after the Magistrate and the High Court, the Supreme Court has upheld SIT’s clean chit.
STATUS OF CASES
In the 12 major Godhra and post-Godhra riots cases, about 600 people were named. About 200 were convicted, with 150 getting life sentences. Trial courts have given judgments in eight of these cases. Those have been challenged before the high court and the Supreme Court. And a large number of families are awaiting justice.
Compensation has also been given in cases, including in 2019 when the top court awarded Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped in Gujarat’s Dahod district during the post-Godhra riots. She was 19 and pregnant when the crime was perpetrated. Five cops and two doctors had been convicted in 2017 by the Bombay High Court for tampering with evidence in the Bilkis Bano case.
Some of these cases are those that were re-investigated by the SIT. As for the Gulbarg Society case, a special Ahmedabad court in 2016 convicted 24 attackers and acquitted 36, including a BJP corporator, saying there was no larger conspiracy.
It’s likely to be the end of the chapter, as for PM Modi’s name in the “larger conspiracy” charge. The top court has not only heavily praised the SIT but also pulled up the appellants for questioning the integrity of the investigators. While stopping short of ordering action against the appellants, the bench has said those involved in “keeping the pot boiling with false revelations and ulterior designs need to face law”.