Godhra train burning
|Godhra train burning|
The Godhra Train Burning was an incident that occurred on the morning of 27 February 2002, in which 58 people including 25 women and 15 children were burnt to death in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station in the Indian state of Gujarat. Many of the people killed were Hindu pilgrims and activists who were returning from the holy city of Ayodhya. Investigations and court rulings on the case later established that the fire was caused by arson by a mob of 2,000 people comprised mainly of Muslims and later a special fast track court convicted 31 Muslims for the incident and the conspiracy for the crime.
Riot Background 
Godhra has a long history of riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities going all the way back to Partition. In 1980, five Hindus, including two children, were killed in the Signal Falia neighbourhood near Godhra Railway yard. In 1985, it remained under curfew for about a year. Communal disturbance in 1985 continued for more than five months from February to July 1985. In November 1990, four Hindu teachers at the Vorwad Saphia Madrasa School, including two women, were killed.
In February 2002, thousands of Ramsevaks had gone from Gujarat to Ayodhya at the instance of Vishva Hindu Parishad to take part in Purnahuti Maha Yagna. On 25 February 2002, 2000 – 2200 Ramsevaks boarded Sabarmati Express which was Ahmedabad bound. On 27 February 2002, train made its scheduled stop at Godhra about 4 hours late, at 7:43 am. Some altercation took place between a few activists of Bajrang Dal/VHP (who were travelling in the train) and a few Muslim hawkers (who were selling eatables in the train) on the issue of payment etc. As the train started leaving the platform, someone pulled the emergency chain and it came to a halt near the signal point and the train was attacked by a mob of around 2000 people. The emergency brake was engaged by members of the mob, bringing the train to a halt. The coupling between the carriages S-6 and S-7 was subsequently cut and the doors of the carriages were locked from outside, preventing the occupants from escaping. The carriages were then set on fire. While the passengers in S-7 managed to extinguish the flames and get out of the compartment, those trapped in S-6 were unable to escape and were burnt to death. The occupants of S-7 were then confronted by the violent mob outside and some were killed. The whole attack lasted about 25 minutes. A few hours later, at 11:00 am on 27 February 2002, Sabarmati Express passengers and police were attacked for a second time near line number 10 of Godhra railway yard. As a result, seven policemen were injured. Two people were killed in police firing.
Rescue operations 
At the time of the attack, 14 policemen were on duty at the yard. The Railway Police Station is about 826 metres away from the location of the attack. Immediately after train was halted and the attack, train driver reported the matter to Station Master on duty on walkie-talkie and asked for police assistance. Three Railway Protection Force Constables were the first to reach the train. RPF and GRP staff present there started rescuing passengers from burning coach with the help of other passengers. Information was given to the concerned officers immediately about what was happening and as a result thereof the required police force and fire brigade had reached the place of incident within a short time. The higher officers had also rushed to that place. The police had to use force and resort to firing to bring the situation under control. The burnt coach S/6 and the adjoining coach S/7 were separated and were taken to a different place in the yard. The train was then reassembled and it left Godhra at 12.40 pm
Nanavati- Mehta Commission had concluded that Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji, an influential cleric, planned the attack on the Sabarmati Express. Bilal Haji and Faruk Bhana, Muslim leaders of Godhra had led the mob and prevented fire tenders from reaching the ‘A-Cabin’ where the train was stopped and attacked. Later Firefighter Sureshgiri Gosai also testified that Municipal Councilor Haji Bilal ordered the mob to stop the Fire engine. He further added that while they were trying to extinguish the fire, stones were pelted on the train. The first response team of Godhra Police Mobile Van testified that Municipal President Mohamad Kalota and municipal councillor Haji Bilal were part of the mob and were inciting them. Another councillor Abdul Raheman Dhantiya alias Kankatta was also found to be invovled in the stone pelting during the incident. Committee found few Ghanchi Muslims who used to stay around Godhra railway station as the executors. Petrol was stored in seven or eight 20-litre cans and was kept in the Aman Guest House.
Trial and court verdict 
Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was invoked against all the accused which was later suspended due to pressure from the Central government. In May 20032, first charge sheet was filed against 54 accused but they are not charged under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTO became an Act as it was cleared by Parliament). In February 2003, POTA was re-invoked against all the accused after BJP was elected in the elections again.
In November 2003, Supreme Court of India put a stay on the trial. In 2004, POTA was repealed after UPA came to power and it decided to review the invocation POTA against the accused. In May 2005, POTA review commission opined not to charge the accused under POTA. This was later unsuccessfully cahllenged by a kin of the victim before the Gujarat High Court and later on appeal before Supreme Court. In September 2008, Nanavati Commission submitted its report on Godhra train burning incident. In 2009, after accepting the report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT)appointed by it, the court appointed a special fast-track court was appointed to try the case along with 5 other fast track courts to try the post-incident riots. The bench hearing the case also said that public prosecutors should be appointed in consultation with the SIT chairman. It ordered that the SIT shall be nodel agency for deciding about witness protection and also asked it file supplementary charge sheets and that it may cancel the bail of the accused. More than 100 people were arrested in relation to the incident. The court was set up inside the Sabarmati Central Jail, where almost all the accused were lodged. The hearing began in May 2009. Additional Sessions Judge P R Patel was designated to hear the case. According to the chargesheet filed by the SIT, 59 people were killed in the S—6 coach of Sabarmati Express when an unidentified mob of around 900 to 1,000 people attacked it near Godhra railway station 27 Feb 2002. Initially 107 people were charged, of which five died during the pendency of the case, while eight others were juveniles, who were tried by a separate court. As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the trial and over 1500 documentary evidences were presented before the court by the Gujarat police.
In May 2010, Supreme Court restrained the trial courts to pronounce judgement in nine sensitive riot cases including Godhra train incident. The trial was completed in September 2010 however the the verdict could not be delivered in view of a Supreme Court stay. The stay was later lifted by the Court in January 2011 and the designated judge announced that he shall pronounce the judgment on 22 February 2011.
Court verdict 
On February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 Muslims of the attack and acquitted 63 Muslims. The court noted that the incident was a “pre-planned conspiracy" and it convicted 31 accused for murder and conspiracy under the Section 302 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code respectively and under Section 149, 307, 323, 324, 325, 326, 332, 395, 397, and 436 of the Code and some sections of the Railway Act and Police Act. The death penalty was awarded to 11 convicts, particularly those it believed were present at a meeting, held the previous night, where the conspiracy was hatched, and those who, it agreed, had actually entered the coach and poured petrol before setting it afire. Rest 20 were sentenced to life imprisonment. However Maulvi Saeed Umarji who was believed by the SIT to be the prime accused, was acquitted along with 62 other accused for lack of evidence.
The 31 persons convicted in the case, including 11 who were awarded the death sentence, have filed appeals in the Gujarat High Court. The state government also challenged the trial court's decision to acquit 61 persons in the High Court and sought death sentences for 20 convicts awarded life imprisonment in the case.
Reactions to verdict 
BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain stated, "The theory propagated by the (central) government and some NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) has been proved wrong...." Law Minister Veerappa Moily who hails from Congress said that it was premature to comment stating that the courts of law will take their own course. R K Raghavan who was the head of the Special Investigating Team said that he was satisfied with the Godhra train burning verdict. BJP spokesperson, Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the verdict had exposed the nefarious designs of the UPA government which tried to cover up the entire episode.
Official Inquiry 
On 6 March, the Gujarat government set up a commission of enquiry headed by retired Gujarat High Court judge K G Shah to enquire into the Godhra train burning and the subsequent violence and submit a report in three months. Following criticism from victims' organisations, activists and political parties over Shah's role as Government's pleader and demand for appointment of a Supreme Court judge to the commission, the government reconstituted the commission into a two member committee in public interest, appointing retired Supreme Court judge, G T Nanavati to lead the commission. Shah died during the course of the probe and then Gujarat High Court retired judge Akshay Kumar Mehta was appointed in the commission on 6 April 2008. The commission, during its six-year probe, examined more than 40,000 applications and testimonies of more than 1,000 witnesses, who expressed their readiness to appear before it.
In 2008, the Nanavati commission submitted its report and it seconded the conspiracy theory, propounded by the Gujarat police. Commission's evidence hinged on the acquisition of 140 litres of petrol hours before the arrival of the train and the storage of the said petrol at the alleged key conspirator's, Razzak Kurkur, guest house. This was further corroborated by forensic evidence showing fuel was poured on the train compartment before being burnt. It concluded that the train was attacked by thousands of Muslims of Signal Falia area opposite Godhra Railway station with sharp weapons, stones and burning rags in front of dozens of eye witnesses. The alleged mastermind was said to be the cleric Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji and a dismissed Central Reserve Police Force officer named Nanumiyan, from Assam, who had instigated the Muslim crowds. Furthermore, two Kashmiris, Gulamnabi and Ali Mohammed, were in the same guesthouse for a fortnight prior to the event speaking about the Kashmir liberation movement.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Indian National Congress party both came out railing against the exoneration of the Gujarat government by the commission citing the timing of the report (with general elections months away) as evident of unfairness. Congress spokesperson Veerappa Moily commented at the strange absolvement of the Gujarat government for complacency for the carnage. He also said the report reinforced communal prejudices.
The term of the commission has been extended from time to time. It was extended for ninetieth time in December 2012 for a term of six months till 30 June 2013.
Other Inquiries 
Justice Tewatia Inquiry Commission 
Council for International Affairs and Human Rights, Delhi deputed a team led by Justice D.S. Tewatia, vice-chairman of the Council and a former chief justice of Calcutta and Punjab & Haryana High Courts, to study the ground situation in Gujarat including four other members. In April 2002, Commission established that the attack on the Sabarmati Express was preplanned and premeditated and an assembly of a mob of about 2000 Muslims in three minutes could not have been spontaneous. The fire fighting system available in Godhra was weakened and its arrival at the place of incident wilfully delayed by the mob with the open participation of a Congress Councillor, Haji Balal. The primary objective was to create Hindu-Muslim communal conflagration in India and cause unrest. It also observed that there was a high traffic of telephone calls from Godhra to Pakistan (mainly Karachi) before the incident. The report concluded that the attack constituted a "concerted effort by jehadi forces to slow down ever-increasing importance of India in the world affairs." attributing this to the " unusual growth rate of Muslim population in Godhra" and also to the fact that "large number of unemployed Muslims in Godhra have mobile phones"
Commission also observed the role of media stating that electronic and print media based in Delhi projected a distorted image of sectarian violence in the state and that the Godhra was a reaction to provocation by karsevaks and riots in rest of the state wereas "state sponsored terrorism". It further observed that the code of ethics prescribed by the Press Council of India was violated by the media with impunity and that media in general failed to perform as conscious and socially responsible gatekeepers of information.
Banerjee Committee 
Two and half years after the Godhra Massacre, Lalu Prasad Yadav, an Ideological cum political opponent of Narendra Modi and BJP, becomes railway minister on 17 May 2004. In September 2004, Railway ministry sets up a one-member committee consisting of former Supreme Court Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee to probe the Godhra train fire. In January 2005, Two days before election in Lalu Prasad's native Bihar state, Commission concluded that the fire was accidental. Lalu Prasad used Banerjee Committee report and a look-alike of Osama bin Laden to woo Muslim voters.
Banerjee Commission's findings were challenged by Neelkanth Tulsidas Bhatia who was injured in Godhra carnage. In October 2006, the Gujarat High Court quashed the conclusions of the Banerjee Committee and ruled that the panel was "unconstitutional, illegal and null and void", and declared its formation as a "colourable exercise of power with mala fide intentions", and its argument of accidental fire "opposed to the prima facie accepted facts on record.".
Popular culture 
- Chand Bujh Gaya, a 2005 film, narrates the riots and Godhra train burning incident.
- 2013 film Kai Po Che had the backdrop of 2002 Gujarat violence which also deals with train burning incident. The film was based on the novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life written by Chetan Bhagat depicting the same.
- Godhra: The Missing Rage, a book written by S K Modi, Prabhat Prakashan (2004).
- Godhra: A Mystery Unfold, a book written by Manish L. Srivastava, Bookwell (2004).
See also 
- Religious violence in India
- Dabgarwad Massacre
- 2002 Gujarat violence
- Best Bakery case
- Islam and violence
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