The Ahmedabad special court verdict sentencing 11 convicts to life imprisonment, 12 to seven years and another to 10 years in jail in Gulberg Society massacre case has come too late and with extremely lenient sentences. Sixty nine Muslim residents had been massacred by a weapon -wielding killer mob of around 3,000 people in the aftermath of coach burning of Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. The killed included former MP Ahsan Jaferi who was cut into pieces, paraded naked in the street and then killed and thrown into fire by the blood-thirsty mob in front of his family. His telephonic pleas to the Chief Minister, Police Officials and calls to columnist Kuldip Nayar in Delhi had fallen on deaf years. It is surprising that the court did not find this to be the rarest of the rare murder and brutality to punish the perpetrators with a death sentence.
It seems the judges have found the crimes lighter than what would have warranted death sentences. This is extremely bizarre looking at the circumstances in which a large crowd of killers brandishing swords, and other weapons had gathered outside the colony with Muslim homes. Sixty nine persons were killed and burnt by the mobs which had come prepared to kill the residents and destroy their property.
Even more surprising is the Judge’s observation that the crowd was provoked into this barbaric atrocity when Jaferi opened fire from his gun. The court has also not found evidence of any conspiracy and dismissed the incident as spontaneous. Both these observations seem to be totally at variance with the facts of the case. A group of 3,500 or more people cannot collect spontaneously and would not be there with weapons. Similarly, Jaferi could not have held the marauding hordes at bay for some time, had he not opened fire with his gun. Even more surprising is the fact that the chief culprit, Bipin Patel has been acquitted along with 29 others.
As it appears, the Gulberg verdict is likely to be challenged in the high court for the kind of observations that have been made and lighter sentences passed. The verdict is in stark contrast with the ruling in coach burning incident in which 11 accused were given death sentences, (thought the Supreme Court commuted death sentences against all except one). The judgment also ignores the role of the police in the case. Although 24 cops were stationed there, they merely stood as mute witnesses to the build-up and the violence on an unprecedented scale.
What is quite observable is that the judges cannot make the judgments on their own unless the prosecution places the entire facts before them. It seems the machinery to subvert the process of adjudication is still working in full force in Gujarat and working to thwart the delivery of justice to the victims at best, and to pose the victims as the perpetrator at the worst. Yet it is hoped that the victims will find justice being done in higher courts and the real perpetrators will be punished adequately for their heinous deeds.