2002 Gujarat riots: ‘Vadodara police was too exhausted, Ahmedabad force was short-staffed’

A total of 597 offences were registered at different police stations in Vadodara city between February 27, 2002 and May 31, 2002, with 49 persons getting killed and 285 injured, as per the report.

The Nanavati Mehta Commission in its detailed report on the incidents of violence in Vadodara and Ahmedabad cities — contained in two separate volumes — stated that the police was too “exhausted” to control the riots, with reference to Vadodara.

The Commission stated in its Vadodara city report, “As the communal violence started on February 28 and increased on March 1, police had remained on duty almost continuously for more than 48 hours, and the evidence of doctors discloses that they were found completely exhausted and not able to respond properly. Such an angry reaction by Hindus against communal violence by Muslims was never seen before, and the police force was inadequate to deal with the situation.”

It goes on to state how most of the witnesses including Muslims “have appreciated the performance of police during those days. They appeared to have performed their duty independently and sincerely. They used force wherever it was found necessary and the evidence of the witnesses discloses that but for their intervention and help, there would have been more casualties (sic).”

Notably, the report only briefly mentioned the ‘Best Bakery’ case in Vadodara, which came to symbolise the state of affairs in the criminal justice system of Gujarat. All 21 accused in the case were acquitted by the trial court, leading the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to call it a “miscarriage of justice”. A total of 14 persons — nine Muslims, three Hindus and two missing persons — were allegedly burned alive by a rioting mob, and even star witness Zaheera Sheikh, daughter of Best Bakery’s owner, had turned hostile. Following an NHRC petition to shift the case outside Gujarat, the case was finally tried in Mumbai and lead to convictions. However, Shaikh who had also testified before the Commission, faced perjury charges for lying in court.

The Commission’s report on the incidents of violence in Vadodara stated that “as a result of the Godhra incident, Hindus in the city had become angry and highly aggressive and that had, along with other circumstances, led to a situation for which the police force was not prepared.”

A total of 597 offences were registered at different police stations in Vadodara city between February 27, 2002 and May 31, 2002, with 49 persons getting killed and 285 injured, as per the report. A total of 1,016 houses and shops, 23 religious places, four government properties and 161 vehicles were destroyed in the cycle of violence in Vadodara, the report stated.

The report also gave a clean chit to all political parties over allegations of their alleged involvement in the riots in Vadodara. “There is no evidence to show the involvement of any political party, any leader or anybody from the government in these incidents. There is evidence to show that anti-social elements had either instigated the incidents or taken part in them. Though there is an allegation that some Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) men had taken part in the incident, there is no evidence to show who were those persons (sic),” said the report.

The Commission has cited the affidavit filed by the then Collector of Vadodara, Bhagyesh Jha, who had said, “The attack on Sabarmati Express train at Godhra railway station became known throughout the city on February 27, 2002, as the electronic media continued to telecast pictures of the burning coach of the train and burnt dead bodies, and also interviews of the survivors, relatives of victims and religious leaders.”

The Commission also cited the affidavit of the then Vadodara Police Commissioner, DD Tuteja who had said, “From the morning of February 28, TV channels had started highlighting the ghastly incident which happened at Godhra. The press also showed shocking pictures and published stories of the said attack. Because of the said incident and publicity given to it, there was tension all over the city.”

As far as Ahmedabad is concerned, the Commission report has “analysed” the police response, inadequate police strength, history of riots in the city and the role rumours played in instigating riots.

“It clearly emerges that the city police administration was already experiencing shortage of manpower to cope with the difficulties arising in day-to-day maintenance of law and order situation, and the paucity of manpower undoubtedly put it in a hopeless disadvantageous position against the unprecedented, swift and wide spread violence flared up as a repercussion of Godhra train incident (sic).”

A total of 442 persons had died in the riots that ensued in Ahmedabad city, in which 336 persons — 255 Muslims and 79 Hindus — died in the riots and 106 persons — 77 Muslims and 29 Hindus — died in police firing between February 28 and May 31, 2002.

With regard to political parties, the Commission report mentioned the affidavits of public and police witnesses indicting several BJP and VHP leaders for Naroda Patiya massacre. However, it stated, “The statements, evidence and affidavits of the private citizens as well as police reveal that several members of VHP and BJP had taken a lead part in the incident. They have named Kishan Kourani, PJ Rajput, Harish Rahera, Raju Chaubal, Babu Bajrangi, Maya Kodnani among others. The above named persons have been arraigned as accused in the cases arising from offences registered and they have been convicted by the court. They have preferred appeal before the High Court of Gujarat, which is pending final disposal. In such circumstances, when the matter is subjudice, it is not proper for the Commission to make any observation or give finding regarding their culpability or otherwise (sic).

Source: The Indian Express

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