Judgments on several aspects of the 2002 Godhra train burning case were delivered by the Gujarat high court on 9th October.
The Godhra train burning case refers to the train that was returning with passengers from the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya that had been demolished in 1992. As many as 59 pilgrims on board were charred to death when a coach of the train was set on fire. This incident was used to organize large scale massacres of Muslims across the state.
The High Court commuted the death penalty awarded by a lower court to 11 convicts into life imprisonment. It upheld the conviction of 20 other people who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court which had in 2011 convicted the 31 people of murder and conspiracy. All 31 convicts would now spend their lives in prison for attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy in setting ablaze a coach of the Sabarmati Express in 2002.
The court criticized the state government and the Indian Railways for their abject failure to maintain law and order in the 2002 incident. The high court also directed the government and the railways to pay Rs 10 lakh each to the families of those killed in the Godhra train burning incident. It further dismissed an appeal by the Gujarat government against the 63 people who were acquitted.
This judgment in the case is coming 15 years after the incident. As in all such cases, many commissions of enquiry had been set up following the disaster. On 6 March 2002, the Gujarat government set up a commission of enquiry headed by retired high court judge K.G. Shah to enquire into the Godhra train burning and the subsequent violence and to submit a report in three months.
In May 2002, the government reconstituted the commission, appointing retired Supreme Court Justice G.T. Nanavati to lead the commission. In March 2012, the Nanavati Commission’s term was extended for the 18th time, till December 2012!
In September 2004, the central government appointed the Banerjee Committee to probe the Godhra train fire. Contrary to the findings of Nanavati Commission, this Committee concluded that the fire was accidental. This conclusion was challenged by the BJP and the Gujarat Inspector General of Police.
It is to be noted that earlier this month, on 5th October, the same high court rejected a petition by former lawmaker Ehsan Jafri’s widow challenging the clean chit given by SIT in 2012 to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and other top politicians and bureaucrats for the 2002 violence organized against the Muslim population of Gujarat.
Notably, the senior leaders of the BJP, police officers who were in command and the Chief Minister and his close associates have not been tried or punished despite repeated efforts by several individuals and organisations.
On the one hand, just like in numerous cases of genocide – 1983,1984, 1993, 2013, etc. those actually guilty of organizing such massacres of innocents of one or another community or nationality, have not been tried and punished.
On the other hand, many innocents have been accused and convicted without evidence on the basis of their religion, while those who have fought for justice have been under attack by the State and its institutions for alleged violations of law.