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Ahmedabad Court Acquits All 69 Accused In 2002 Naroda Gam Massacre

All 69 defendants in the 2002 Naroda Gam massacre case, including former BJP MLA Maya Kodnani, ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel, were exonerated by a special court in Ahmedabad on Thursday, April 20. Following the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002, the Naroda Gam case was one of nine significant riots in Gujarat for which a swift day-by-day trial was mandated. The Naroda Gam case took years to resolve, despite the cases being assigned to specific courts and under the Supreme Court’s supervision.

Five judges presided over the trial throughout the years, and some of their prior orders provided evidence of both the prosecution’s and the defense’s dilatory strategies. Those charged in the case include Jaideep Patel, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Kodnani, a former minister in the administration of the then-chief minister Narendra Modi, and V S Gohil, a former police inspector at the Naroda police station.

In the Naroda Patiya case, which involved the greatest massacre of the Gujarat riots on February 28, 2002, Kodnani and Bajrangi were found guilty in 2012. Kodnani was given a 28-year prison term, however the Gujarat High Court cleared her of all charges in 2018. 17 of the 86 suspects in the Naroda Gam case were freed on bond after the trial, leaving 69. Nearly 182 prosecution witnesses in the case were subjected to cross-examination. On April 5, Special Judge Shubhada Krishnakant Baxi postponed the proceeding.

According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the accused are accused of, among other things, murder, attempted murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, rioting, dacoity, promoting intergroup strife, mischief by fire, causing the disappearance of evidence, aiding and abetting, intentional acts meant to incite religious sentiment, and intentionally causing harm.

In Muslim Maholla, Kumbhar Vas, in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Gam area, mobs set fire to their homes on February 28, 2002, resulting in the deaths of 11 Muslims. An FIR was lodged at the Naroda police station.

Witness claims that “the Muslims had not received any police help and were simply at the mercy of the miscreants” and that “police assistance had only been received in the evening” were noted in the Justice Nanavati Commission’s report on the Gujarat riots. In testimony before the Commission, several police officers stated that they were unable to reach Naroda Gam because they were simultaneously attending to a more critical crisis at Naroda Patiya.

The Commission determined that the “police force at the location was insufficient” and that the officers “were even not properly equipped.” It was decided that “it cannot be said that they deliberately allowed the incident to happen.”

The Commission made the following statement regarding the involvement of political figures in the massacre: “…Not only the residents of the locality, but even the police present at the scene have stated that the leaders of the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and BJP had actively participated in these incidents and the riots in this area occurred at their instigation.”

In March 2017, Kodnani asked for the questioning of 14 more witnesses in her defence, including Amit Shah, the union home minister and then-president of the BJP. Shah, who testified in front of the designated court on September 18, 2017, claimed that on the day of the incident—February 28, 2002—he met Kodnani at the Gujarat Assembly around 8:30 am and at the Sola Civil Hospital around 11:15 am.

The Special Investigation Team (SIT), the prosecution team in this case, challenges Kodnani’s allegation that she was not present at Naroda Gam when the offence was committed, and the court called Shah after Kodnani filed an application to verify her alibi.

With a total of 86 accused, ten sessions cases were filed for trial; nine in 2009 and one in 2010. The public prosecutor’s plea to combine the tenth trial was approved in July 2010, and the nine cases were ordered to be tried together in September 2009. The trial had to be reopened since 95 prosecution witnesses had already undergone cross-examination in the nine instances that had come before it.

Ajay Choksi’s resignation and the appointment of SC Shah in 2012 resulted in the replacement of the special public prosecutor as well during the course of the trial.

In 2013, Kodnani, Bajrangi, and one Kishan Korani requested that Jyotsna Yagnik, the appointed judge, step down from the Naroda Gam case because she had found them guilty in the Naroda Patiya case. The court turned down their request.

In 2013, the defence also requested that 80 prosecution witnesses be charged as defendants, charging the SIT with bias. According to the court, at that point, 181 witnesses had been questioned, and the trial was almost over. The SIT said that the defense’s request “is nothing more than a further delay of the trial.” The court turned down this request.

In spite of the fact that Pravinsinh Laxmansinh Mall had already “suffered extensive and lengthy cross examination, the period having been extended for more than 20 months,” the court of then-designated judge Pranav Deshmukh Desai denied the defense’s request to further question the SIT investigator in 2015.

Former IPS Rahul Sharma was urged to be charged in the case in 2016 by the defence. Following the withdrawal of the application, Sharma was deposed as a witness. The defence took issue with Sharma’s claimed “scoffing” and “smiling” during the deposition’s proceedings. The court overruled the arguments, saying that such occurrences were a “common phenomenon.”

Sharma was a pivotal witness in the Gujarat riots proceedings and provided the Nanavati Commission with significant information. He left the IPS after conflicts with the government and is now an attorney in the Gujarat High Court.

The defence asked for the case’s special prosecutors, Gaurang Vyas and VJ Patel, to be brought as witnesses at one point in May 2017. The defense’s plea was rejected by the court, which further criticised it for being “yet another attempt by the accused to prolong the proceedings” and said that such petitions “amount to nothing more than a gross abuse of process of law.”

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