IN WITHIN HOURS of the tragedy on board the Sabarmati Express, the BJP and its affiliates — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal — started preparations for one of the worst acts of genocide in the history of this country. On February 28, 2002, a day after the Sabarmati Express fire, Ahmedabad witnessed mass killings of the most horrific nature. Armed saffron cadres roamed the streets, burning, looting, raping and killing Muslims at will. The neighbourhood that bled most was Naroda, a locality on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, with a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.
In a most systematic manner, the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal formed an execution squad that carried out a pogrom from 10 in the morning of February 28 till after well past dark. Apart from firearms, tridents and swords, everything that could conceivably be turned into a weapon at short notice — from bricks to gas cylinders to diesel tankers — was unleashed on an entire neighbourhood of Muslims. Most victims were burnt alive. Before being set on fire, many were stabbed, raped and hacked apart.
Right through the massacre, the cellphones of the rioters were ringing constantly, with death scores being shared at regular intervals. By sundown, Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon, the Muslim neighbourhoods in the area, had been reduced to a vast wasteland of death. Sliced up like vegetables, burnt like charcoal and, bearing the testimony of slaughter at its crudest, corpses lay scattered across what had been a lively human settlement barely a few hours before.
Naroda was no nondescript, out-of the-way place. It was just five km from the local police control room and less than four km from Shahibaug, the Ahmedabad Police headquarters. A mob armed with lethal weapons went on a killing spree for over 10 hours, yet nothing moved in the administration, no reinforcements were dispatched, no effort was made to disperse the mob. Civil society has had no doubt that it was Chief Minister Narendra Modi who was to blame for the genocide. Survivors have alleged that the police played partisan. The police have retorted that it was a riot and they were outnumbered. The government has denied any acts of omission or commission on its part. Five years on, the trial for the carnage in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon is yet to start.
For the last three years, the Supreme Court has been sitting on a petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission and a few NGOs to have the case reinvestigated and transferred out of Gujarat. The accused are out on bail. Narendra Modi has won a landslide electoral victory and is preparing for another. Most survivors have shifted to ghettoes on Ahmedabad’s outskirts; the few who returned to their previous homes are living a marginalised life, under economic and social boycott by their Hindu neighbours.
NARODA: LAYOUT AND DEMOGRAPHY
About 15km from the centre of Ahmedabad city, Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya were once home to around 2,000 daily wage-earning Muslims, a majority of them migrants from Karnataka and Maharashtra. The area lies along a highway stretch just outside the city. Across the road from it is the State Transport warehouse; nearby are the Hindu-dominated Gopinath and Gangotri housing societies. Both Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya are over 70 years old and are typical urban slums; both come under the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The distance between the two is not more than a kilometre or so. While Naroda Gaon is relatively smaller, Naroda Patiya is a labyrinth of narrow lanes, flanked by close-packed, unsightly concrete structures, few of them higher than two storeys, inhabited by Muslims. Across the road from Naroda Patiya is Chharanagar, a large settlement of Chharas, a denotified tribe commonly deemed criminal and involved primarily in bootlegging and gambling. Though Hindu, Chharas are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy.
WHO WERE THE ACCUSED?
Two separate FIRs were registered for the Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya incidents. While only eight people were recorded as killed at Naroda Gaon, eyewitness accounts put the toll at Naroda Patiya in the hundreds. Nobody, however, knows exactly how many Muslims were killed at Naroda that day. Nobody, except, perhaps, the killers.
Among the dozens of Sangh Parivar cadres whom survivors identified as their attackers, the names of BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi came up repeatedly as having led the mob. When filing the chargesheet, however, the police refused to prosecute Kodnani, citing lack of evidence. Bajrangi was chargesheeted along with a few BJP and VHP workers and a couple of dozen Chharas. In all, the police named 49 people as accused in the Naroda Patiya incident, and the same number were accused for Naroda Gaon as well. There are many names in common between the two lists, among them Bajrangi’s. After absconding for over three months, Bajrangi was arrested amid high drama. Five months after his arrest, the Gujarat High Court granted him bail.
Just under 5’3”, Babu Bajrangi—whose family name is Patel — is a towering figure in Naroda. Twenty-two years of association with the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, has firmly established him as the most dreaded local thug. Today, Bajrangi lords it over Naroda, and over Chharanagar in particular, where he commands a substantial following. Many Chharas appear to hold him in great reverence; he, in turn, is all praise for the criminal abilities he claims they possess, they are his “weapons”, he says, “just kill, nothing else”.
Bajrangi holds court at his office on the second floor of the Ajanta Ellora Shopping Complex, just off the highway that skirts Naroda. Though he claims to be a big builder with a steady monthly income of over a lakh and a half, his main vocation is beating up Muslims and Christians. “I just hate Muslims and Christians,” he says. And the cause dearest to his heart is to “rescue” Hindu girls who have married or eloped with Muslim boys. A majority of those who visit him each day are the parents of such girls. “When they go to the police, the cops don’t lodge a complaint, they send them to me,” Bajrangi claims. “Nine hundred and fifty-seven — that’s how many Hindu girls I have saved. On average, one girl married to a Muslim produces five children. So, in effect, I have killed 5,000 Muslims before they were born.”
Bajrangi has other claims to fame too. It was he who, virtually single-handedly, stalled therelease of the film Parzania in Ahmedabad. While he openly threatened cinema hall owners to keep them from screening the film, the administration remained mute. “The film was anti-Hindu,” is all the justification he needed. Bajrangi’s love for Hindus is defined by his hate for Muslims and everything about them. “I would not mind if I were condemned to death, but if they ask me my last wish, I would want to drop bombs in Muslim localities and kill ten to fifteen thousand Muslims before I die.”
Apart from personal action, he has several suggestions for a “solution” to the “problem” of Muslim presence. “Delhi should issue orders to kill — higher caste people and the rich won’t do it but slum dwellers and the poor will and they should be ordered to. They should be told that they can take whatever they want of the Muslims — land, wealth, houses, everything — but they should do it in three days.” This will ensure that Muslims are wiped out across India. Bajrangi’s second suggestion is to have Muslims allowed only one marriage and one child by law. Additionally, it would also be a good idea to deny them the right to vote.
PREPARATIONS FOR GENOCIDE
Bajrangi went to Godhra on February 27, the day of the Sabarmati fire. He told TEHELKA that after he saw the Sabarmati victims’ bodies, he took a vow to avenge Godhra on the Muslims of Naroda Patiya the very next day. “Humne unko wahi challenge kar diya tha ki isse chaar guna laash hum Patiya mein gira daalenge (I challenged the Muslims — I would see four times the number of dead in Godhra felled in Patiya),” Bajrangi told TEHELKA at the very first meeting. He returned to Ahmedabad and began preparations for the massacre that very night. Twenty-three small firearms were rounded up from such Hindus as owned them; those who were unwilling to part with their weapons were told they’d be killed the next day, even if they were Hindus. Large quantities of inflammable material were also acquired — Bajrangi told TEHELKA that one petrol pump owner gave him petrol for free, this he later used to burn Muslims alive.
The VHP and Bajrang Dal men arrived at Naroda Patiya at around 10 the next morning. They led the first attack but were forced to retreat as the Muslims put up a strong resistance, said Suresh Richard, one of the key accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre. At this point, a large band of Bajrangi’s Chhara followers joined ranks with the saffron mob and mounted a fresh attack. By around 10.30am, they had managed to destroy the minaret of Naroda Patiya’s Noorani Masjid. Subsequently, as Richard told TEHELKA, a full fuel tanker was rammed into the building, it burst and was then set on fire. The fuel from the tanker was also used to burn Muslims and their homes.
After the first round of assault, the Muslims barricaded themselves into their homes and remained there till around 3pm when the attack intensified. Between 5 and 6 that evening, the mob reached the height of its frenzy; many women and girls were first raped and then doused in kerosene and petrol and burnt. A few dozen Muslims were able to make it to a State Reserve Police Force camp nearby. Bajrangi told TEHELKA that but for the Muslim commandant of the camp, who sheltered some Muslims, the death toll would have been much higher.
Some of the men in the Naroda attack were wearing khaki shorts and had saffron bands around their foreheads. According to witnesses, many were carrying jerrycans filled with kerosene, diesel and oil from the State Transport workshop. These they would empty on whoever came in range before setting them on fire; lit balls of fuel-soaked cloth were also thrown at those out of immediate reach. In Naroda is an open area with a large pit that is actually a cul de sac — a slope leads into it from one side but the other side is a sheer rise that cannot be scaled. Several Muslims had sheltered there; the mob surrounded the pit, poured fuel into it and set fire to it as well.
Ninety-seven people are officially said to have died that day in Naroda Patiya, but the actual death toll was much higher, as can be gleaned from the detailed lists survivors have made of missing persons and of their kith and kin whom they saw dying. Most of the dead were charred or mutilated beyond recognition. “We hacked, we burnt, did a lot of that,” said Bajrangi. “We believe in setting them on fire because these bastards say they don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it, they say this and that will happen to them.” An overwhelming majority of the survivors were never able to claim the bodies. Dozens of eyewitnesses who deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission recounted scenes of children being burnt alive and women being raped. “We didn’t spare any of them,” Bajrangi said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to breed. Whoever they are, even if they’re women or children, there’s nothing to be done with them; cut them down. Thrash them, slash them, burn the bastards.”
Kauser Bano, was nine months pregnant that day. Her belly was torn open and her foetus wrenched out, held aloft on the tip of a sword, then dashed to the ground and flung into a fire. Bajrangi recounts how he ripped apart “ek woh pregnant… b*******d sala”; how he showed Muslims the meaning of wrath—“If you harm us, we can respond — we’re no khichdi-kadhi lot”.
The scale and ferocity of the attack forced all surviving residents of the settlement to run away. Every house was looted, some were burnt. Many survivors had to be hospitalised; many were separated from their families and were not re-united with them for a week to 10 days, some for much longer. Several women were left with nothing to cover themselves with and were escorted to the relief camp completely naked. Suresh Richard told TEHELKA that there were many instances of rape and he himself was involved in one of them.
TEHELKA: It is being said the Chharas also committed rapes…
Richard: Now look, one thing is true… bhookhe ghuse to koi na koi to phal khayega, na [when thousands of hungry men go in, they will eat some fruit or the other, no]… Aise bhi, phal ko kuchal ke phek denge [in any case, the fruit is going to be crushed and thrown away]… Look, I’m not telling lies… Mata is before me [gesturing to an image of a deity]… Many Muslim girls were being killed and burnt to death, some men must have helped themselves to the fruit…
TEHELKA:Must have been a couple of rapes…
Richard: Might even have been more… then there were the rest of our brothers, our Hindu brothers, VHP people and RSS people… Anyone could have helped themselves… who wouldn’t, when there’s fruit?… The more you harm them, the less it is… I really hate them… don’t want to spare them… Look, my wife is sitting here but let me say… the fruit was there so it had to be eaten… I ate too… I ate once.
TEHELKA: Just once?
Richard: Just once… then I had to go killing again… [turns to relative Prakash Rathod and talks about the girl he had raped and killed]… the scrap dealer’s daughter Naseemo… Naseemo that juicy plump one… I got on top…
TEHELKA: You got on top of her…
Richard: Yes, properly…
TEHELKA: She didn’t survive, did she?
Richard: No, then I pulped her… Made her into a pickle…
Another victim, 22-year-old Sufiya Bano, was raped and burnt in front of her father. The Civil Hospital, where she was admitted and later died, confirmed the attack on her. When her father, Abdul Majid, a witness who deposed before the Nanavati-Shah Commission, tried to save his daughter, he was brutally seized and held and his beard cut off. Apart from Sufiya Bano, six other members of this family were killed: three boys — Mehmood, Ayub and Hussain; two other girls — Afrin Bano and Shahin Bano; and their mother, Lalibibi. At 22, Sufiya was the eldest of her siblings; seven-year-old Hussain and four-year old Shahin Bano were the youngest.
Police Commissioner PC Pandey came to Naroda Patiya only later that night, at around one. As he surveyed the devastation, he said the place looked worse than even the battlefields of Haldighati. So Bajrangi said.
On the day of the massacre, Richard told TEHELKA, BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani drove around Naroda, exhorting the rioters to kill as many as they could. Worse yet, Bajrangi revealed that he had been giving VHP general secretary Jaideep Patel a blow-by-blow account of the massacre on his mobile phone. He said he made 11 calls to Patel, providing him the latest death toll each time, until his phone went dead. That evening, Bajrangi says, he also called up then Minister of State for Home Gordhan Zadaphia, and told him how many he had killed and said that it was now up to Zadaphia to keep him out of trouble with the law. He went to bed that night feeling like Maharana Pratap, he says. He didn’t manage to meet Narendra Modi when the Gujarat CM visited the locality that evening. Modi never made it into the interior of Naroda Patiya, says Bajrangi. “Not even God had the power to enter Naroda Patiya that day.”
THE ROLE OF THE POLICE
Bajrangi was emphatic in his claim that the killings would never have been possible had the police not looked the other way. There was only one entrance to Naroda Patiya, he said, “like a housing society”, and there were some 50 policemen posted there. “They could have ripped us apart,” he said. “But, though they saw everything, they kept their eyes and mouths shut.” Richard said that the police fired at Muslims who were under attack. He also said that late that night, after the rioting had died down, some policemen specially told the Chharas to kill Muslims hiding in a ditch.
TEHELKA in collaboration with advocate Somnath Vatsa of NGO Action Aid — whose Ahmedabad chapter has been fighting for justice for the victims of the 2002 massacre — carried out a threadbare analysis of the police investigation and the chargesheets filed in the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon massacres. We found that far from punishing the guilty, the police were involved in a massive cover-up.
Bodies disposed of to diminish magnitude of crime: Once the massacre was over, the first task before the police was to whittle down the death toll. The larger the number of deaths, the more vociferous the outcry from civil society. As Bajrangi details, the police had the bodies from Naroda Patiya rounded up and dumped at various places across the city. According to Bajrangi, over 200 people had died that day; late that night, then Ahmedabad Police Comissioner PC Pandey came to Naroda and ordered the police to have the bodies removed.
“They were piled up in trucks, it took so many vehicles, some were even stuffed into jeeps.” When the bodies were collected the second time and brought to the Civil Hospital for the post-mortem, they were recorded as being from the area where they were found. In this manner, the police managed to keep the death count down to 105, 97 from Naroda Patiya and eight from Naroda Gaon. The post-mortem records show that even these 105 bodies from Naroda were brought to the hospital piecemeal, with the last few bodies being brought in a full four days after the massacre.
No autopsies on 41 bodies:With one piece of evidence destroyed, the police moved on to the next stage. The bodies — charred, hacked at, bearing shot wounds, stab marks and marks of rape — could have been strong evidence of a brutal massacre and of the administration’s complicity. They might have served as a potent indication of the fact that this was no spontaneous act of rioting but a systematic pogrom. But the police did not carry out post-mortems on as many as 41 bodies recovered from Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon. No explanation has been offered for this act of grave negligence and omission.
Ninety-seven bodies had inquest panchnamas filed, a legal procedure under which the police, in the presence of two socalled “independent” witnesses, or panchas, physically verify the place from which the bodies were recovered and the nature of injuries on them and record their findings in writing. Thus, by their own records, the police recovered at least 97 bodies from Naroda Patiya. But, shockingly post-mortems were performed on only 58. Of the bodies recovered from Naroda Gaon, autopsies were not carried out on two. Apart from providing irrefutable evidence of the scale of the barbarity perpetrated that day, the autopsies, if done honestly, could have established the time of death, which would have given a fair indication of the total duration of the slaughter. These reports could have been a strong piece of evidence in court. But this is exactly what the police did not want.
Crucial evidence destroyed: The scene of a crime gives an investigating agency its most critical pieces of evidence. In Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon, the accused had left behind a trail that the police set out to systematically obliterate. The pit in which a large number of people were burnt alive was not even examined — no samples were taken of the soil, of the traces of human tissue or of the remains of burnt fuel. On the contrary, the pit does not even figure in the police version of the massacre. The dying declarations of as many as seven victims were not recorded; two of them died on March 11 after prolonged treatment, but no explanation is forthcoming in the chargesheet of why their statements were not recorded.
BJP MLA exonerated: Naroda massacre survivors had named local BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani as having incited the murderous mob. However, at the time of filing the chargesheet for the carnage, the police dropped her name from the list of the accused, claiming that they had failed to find any evidence against her. But Richard had much to say about the role she had played. Richard and his co-accused Prakash Rathod said that Mayaben patrolled the streets of Naroda Patiya throughout the day, urging the rioters to kill more Muslims.
Destruction of Noorani Masjid not investigated: In its records of what it found at the scene of the offence, the police mention the presence of an oil tanker, manufactured by Ashok Leyland, near the Noorani Masjid, with its rear in contact with the wall of the mosque. Its front number plate was intact and read GT-1T 7384. But the tanker was not seized. The Road Transport Office was not contacted to determine its ownership. No samples of its contents were taken for forensic examination. In fact, it is still a mystery as to how a tanker of this size managed to “sneak in” so close to the Noorani Masjid, a place where there were over 12 police personnel on “constant vigil”.
No proceedings against absconding prime accused: Many main accused went absconding after the police was forced to register an FIR against them. Babu Bajrangi, Kishan Korani, Prakash Rathod and Suresh Richard, for instance, were arrested three months after the FIR was issued. Bipin Panchal was arrested after a year and a half. But the police did not follow any of the usual procedures used when an accused absconds, such as pasting notices outside the accused’s house declaring him an absconder, confiscating his properties, etc.
Not one confession recorded: Those arrested for the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gaon massacres were taken in on remand — a period the court grants to the police to take an accused into custody for interrogation. But the remand and interrogation were a farce. Not one confession has been annexed to the chargesheets filed in either of the Naroda massacres.
Just one weapon recovered: Barring one sword recovered from Bipin Panchal in 2004, the police have not recovered any other weapon either from the scene of the crime or from any other accused. The survivors, however, had testified that their attackers, including the accused, were heavily armed with an assortment of weapons — knives, swords, trishuls, gas cylinders and firearms. In an instance where as many as 105 people, according to the police’s own admission, were butchered, the failure to recover any
weapon used in the massacre speaks volumes for the quality of the investigation carried out. In fact, the owner of a gas agency had given a written statement that 20-odd persons with a Maruti van had landed up at his godown on the day of the carnage and had looted a large number of gas cylinders. The agency owner said his watchman had been present when the incident took place. But neither was the statement of the watchman recorded, nor was any attempt made to identify those involved in the looting or to track down the vehicle used in the crime.
Not one accused sent for scientific examination: Since not a single statement of any of the accused was recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, it would indicate that the police failed to elicit any information by conventional interrogation methods. The next step would have been to subject the accused to scientific examinations like a polygraph test or narcoanalysis or brain mapping. The police, however, initiated no efforts in this direction.
No mention made of rapes: Three chargesheets apiece were filed in the Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya massacres. However, despite the testimonies of dozens of survivors who had reported that women were raped, not a single instance of rape was recorded. At least one post-mortem indicated a possible case of sexual assault, yet no investigations in this direction were carried out. (It should be noted that since autopsies on 41 bodies were not carried out, there is no ascertaining how many of them were women’s and whether they bore marks of sexual assault.)
Mobile phone recovered from the spot not examined: On the day of the massacre, a survivor named Mirja Hussain Biwi Moherble recovered a mobile phone near her residence in Naroda Patiya. It had been inadvertently dropped by one of the accused, and was handed over to the police. On enquiry, Additional Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch, AK Surolia found that it belonged to one Ashok Sindhi, an accused in the massacre. Surolia launched a massive investigation and started collecting the call records of Babu Bajrangi and other accused, including Sindhi (Letters from Surolia addressed to telecom companies asking for phone records are with TEHELKA.
We also have handwritten notes by him in which he observed that he believed Bajrangi “to be behind all this”.) But before the investigation could go any further, Surolia was transferred. Once he was gone, the police stopped looking into Sindhi’s phone records. In the three chargesheets filed in the Naroda Patiya massacre, no mention has been made of any cellphone belonging to an accused being recovered from the scene of the crime.
Mobile phone records of the accused not made part of the chargesheet: After the case was transferred to the Crime Branch of the Ahmedabad Police, the then DCP Rahul Sharma proceeded to collect the mobile phone call records of all the accused. But, a few weeks into the probe, he was unceremoniously taken off it and the case was handed over to Deputy Commissioner of Police DG Vanzara. Sharma, however, managed to make a copy of all the call records and produced it before the Nanavati-Shah Commission. These call records are a piece of strong corroborative evidence establishing not only how all the accused were making frantic calls to each other while the Naroda massacre was in progress, but also that they were present at the spot. Call records have not been included as evidence in the chargesheets.
No mention made of use of firearms: In the chargesheets, the police have only said that the mob was carrying sharp-edged weapons (of which only one has been recovered so far). The police have ruled out the use of any kind of firearm by the mob. The injury certificates of most of the survivors who were treated for gunshot wounds were not made part of the chargesheets; all the same, clear mentions of gunshot wounds did find their way into four injury certificates annexed with the chargesheets. One postmortem report also attributes the death to a firearm injury. The dimensions of the entry and exit wounds in all five cases show that the wounds were inflicted by small firearms and not by police rifles. In any case, though the police have claimed to have fired 91 rounds to disperse the mob, it is not their case that anyone was injured in police firing. As to how these five people sustained bullet injuries, the entire investigation is silent.
No identification parades carried out: In the case of both the Naroda massacres, dozens of witnesses have stated that were the accused to be shown to them, they would identify their attackers. Yet, except for Ashok Sindhi, the police did not conduct any identification parades of the accused. The identification parade is of immense importance
in cases of mob violence.
THE INVISIBLE HAND
In the course of their conversations with TEHELKA, numerous accused spoke appreciatively of the role of the police, and named senior Sangh Parivar functionaries, for their role in the carnage, including MoS for Home Gordhan Zadaphia, whom Bajrangi spoke to after the massacre. When so many arms of the government were involved at so many levels, was the man who headed the state also involved?
TEHELKA asked Bajrangi this question. In reply, the Naroda massacres prime accused said that Chief Minister Narendra Modi had visited Naroda twice after the massacre — first, in the evening of the day of the massacre, when he came to the locality but was unable to enter it, and second, on the next day, when he went inside Naroda Patiya. On both visits, Modi had encouraged the murderers, Bajrangi said, and told them that whatever they had done was good and that they should do even more.
Suresh Richard corroborated this account and said that Modi had also visited Chharanagar on the evening of the massacre and garlanded the rioters. Bajrangi said that if Modi had not told the police to stand back, the massacre would never have been possible. But Modi’s support to the rioters did not stop at the facilitation of the killings. Bajrangi said after the Naroda killings, Modi kept him in hiding for more than four months and then stage-managed his arrest. If that was not enough he also brought in a favourable judge to hear Bajrangi’s bail petition and got him out of jail.