Best Bakery case

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The Best Bakery case (also called Tulsi Bakery case) was a legal case involving the burning down of the Best Bakery, a small outlet in the Hanuman Tekri area in Vadodara, India, on March 1, 2002. During the incident, a mob targeted the Sheikh family who ran the bakery and had taken refuge inside, resulting in the deaths of 14[1] (11 Muslims including family members and 3 Hindu employees[2] of the bakery[3]). This case has come to symbolize the carnage in 2002 Gujarat violence (and the alleged State Government complicity in it) that followed the Godhra train Massacre.[4]

Background[edit]

On March 1, 2002, communal frenzy enveloped Vadodara.[5] The Best Bakery, a small outlet in the Hanuman Tekri area of Vadodara,[4] was attacked by a mob, which burned down the bakery, killing 14 people.[6] This attack was part of the 2002 Gujarat violence.

Amnesty International reports that in many cases of the Gujarat violence, police recorded complaints in a defective manner, failed to collect witnesses' statements as well as corroborative evidence and did not investigate the responsibility of eminent suspects. The Best Bakery case was seen by human rights organizations in India as a test case given that what Amnesty calls "strong evidence" against the accused existed,[7] but the victims gained little justice.[6]

Case and acquittal[edit]

The day after the attack, Zaheera Sheikh filed the first informant complaint.[1] Sheikh, a 19-year-old during the incident, was a key and notable witness. She stated that she saw her family members burn to death. When the mob gathered, shouting communal slogans, her family fled to the terrace and some locked themselves in a first-floor room. The mob set the bakery on fire and killings continued from 6 pm to 10 am the next day. Her statements were recounted for many publications.[4]

On 23 March 2003, however, 37 of the 73 witnesses, including Sheikh, turned hostile.[4]

All of the 21 accused were acquitted on June 27, 2003 by additional sessions judge H U Mahida of the Vadodara fast track court.[6][8][9][10] Other witnesses had suffered head injuries and were not in a mental state to give an accurate witness account. The state government pointed to the lapses by the police in "registering and recording of FIR" (First Information Report) and on the part of the prosecution in "recording of evidence" of witnesses in the Best Bakery case.[11]

Reactions[edit]

Amnesty International criticized the judgment as "the lack of government commitment to ensuring justice to victims of the communal violence in Gujarat."[7] India's National Human Rights Commission described it as a "miscarriage of justice" and, along with other petitioners, argued that the case should be investigated by an independent agency. The Supreme court expressed displeasure at the acquittal.[12]

The Indian Supreme Court criticized the government. Chief Justice VN Khare said he had "no confidence" in the Gujarat government. The Supreme court demanded a retrial. Three Supreme court judges ordered the head of Gujarat police and the chief secretary to appear before the court to explain their actions in the controversy.[3]

The judgment said, "It was proved beyond doubt that a violent mob had attacked the bakery and killed 12 persons. However, there was no legally acceptable evidence to prove that any of the accused presented before the court had committed the crime." The judgment was critical of the police for delay in registering FIR and for not investigating the incident properly and harassing innocent people. It was reported that key witnesses in the case had lied in court out of fear for their lives as they had been given death threats. Key witnesses in the case include the wife and daughter of the bakery owner. According to their testimony to the police and the National Human Rights Commission, 500 people had attacked the bakery. They accused party politicians of threatening and harassing them into withdrawing their testimony.[13]

The Gujarat government responded by pointing out many other cases where the guilty were left unpunished. Solicitor General Mukul Rohatgi cited the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and said many of the accused are still free.[3]

Re-trial[edit]

The Supreme Court ordered that the retrial be moved out of Gujarat after accusing the state government of judicial failures.

The Gujarat government filed an amended appeal in the Gujarat High Court seeking retrial of the case. The appeal was admitted by the Gujarat High Court. After being indicted by the Supreme Court of India, the police registered a case against a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator for intimidating witnesses to the incident. The government of Gujarat admitted there were lapses on the part of the police in registering and recording FIR in the case and on the part of the prosecution in recording the evidence of witnesses. It said the police had attempted to help the accused by not submitting names of the accused.

A key witness admitted lying in court and not testifying against the accused. She said she had been threatened by senior figures in the local organisation of Gujarat's ruling right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. Thus 17 charged with murdering 14 people, were retried in a case beginning in 2004.[14]

Perjury[edit]

n a serious dent to Best Bakery case key witness Zahira Sheikh's credibility, a Supreme Court-appointed committee has indicted her as a "self-condemned liar" falling to "inducements" by "certain persons" to give "inconsistent" statements during the trial of the case.

A bench comprising Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice H K Sema opened the sealed report and read out the three main conclusions of the committee headed by Supreme Court Registrar General B M Gupta.

At the same time, the committee gave a clean chit to social activist Teesta Setalavad of the charges of inducement levelled against her by Zahira.

Complete Coverage: Gujarat riots The court, on January 10 this year, had referred the matter for inquiry on being faced with the flip-flops of Zahira much to the embarrassment of her one time protector and social activist Setalavad.

The bench, after glancing through the over 150-page report, said that the committee has come to the conclusion that there was inducement given to Zahira by certain persons and that there were inconsistencies in her statements.

The court made it clear that it has not accepted the report and sought the opinion of the counsel for both Zahira and Setalavad in regard to 'acceptability' of the report and posted the matter for further hearing on October 24.

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/keyword/zahira-sheikh http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/aug/29best.htm http://hillele.org/2015/02/18/arnab-goswami-lekhi-jethmalani-a-bundle-of-lies-rukmini-sen/

Life sentences[edit]

In February 2006, a court in India convicted nine of the 21 people of murder, sentencing them to life imprisonment. It acquitted 8 others, while issuing warrants for the arrest of four missing persons.[15]

The judgment, called "landmark" by BBC journalist Sanjoy Majumder, brought the case to an end. The case has the legacy of being "one of the country's most controversial and high profile trials."[16] Of the nine convicted for life by the trial court, Bombay High Court acquitted five for want of evidence, but upheld the sentence in respect of the remaining four.[17]

Allegation of false depositions[edit]

MUMBAI: Sehrunnisa Sheikh, mother of prime witness in the Best Bakery case Zahira Sheikh, was on Thursday held guilty of contempt of court by the special court conducting the re-trial here.

The court imposed a fine of Rs 100 on Sehrunnisa after reading her reply to a show-cause notice issued to her earlier in the day. Sehrunnisa was taken into custody after the trial court initiated contempt proceedings against her for her defiant attitude during her deposition as a witness.While tendering evidence, she frequently looked at Raes Khan, an NGO activist, who was sitting in the court. Even after the judge told her to address the court and not to look at others she continued to look at Raes. The judge warned her that she could be held for contempt, to which Sehrunnisa replied: "Please take action against me." Sehrunnisa said Raes was gesturing at her and hence, she was looking at him.

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2004-12-17/news/27380513_1_contempt-proceedings-court-fines-special-court

2012 Bombay High Court[edit]

On July 9, 2012, the Bombay High Court, upheld the life sentences of four accused, Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadursingh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar on the basis of four eyewitness accounts, who were injured bakery employees and identified the accused. It acquitted five accused, Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Gosavi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava and Shailesh Tadvi, for lack of evidence.[18][19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]