By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Seven years after the Gujarat-carnage stunned the world, raising questions about Indian secularism, political culture, security and also objectivity of the media to test. It has ironically taken seven years for the Indian system to spell some hope for survivors getting justice and some compensation. One is the release of those arrested on basis of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for allegedly burning of S-6 coach in Sabarmati Express train at Godhra, killing 59 people, mostly Hindu activists on February 27, 2002. The claims of the fire having been set by Muslims provoked an anti-Muslim communal frenzy across the state. However, this claim stands defeated with the Gujarat High Court having recently upheld the findings of a Supreme Court appointed committee, according to which there was no terrorist conspiracy in the Godhra incident. With the Supreme Court and Gujarat High Court having stated that Godhra fire was not an act of terror, this spells hope for those arrested under charges of POTA for being released on bail. There are also prospects of policemen who misused POTA facing a legal battle to defend themselves. They may face imprisonment of up to two years and may also have to pay compensation to the accused, â€œif the court is of the opinion that the accused has been maliciously proceeded against under the Act,â€ according to Â§ 58 (2) of the Act.
The Supreme Court has also directed the Gujarat police to reopen 1958 cases of post-Godhra riots, which had been closed. The apex court has taken this move in response to a petition filed by some NGOs (non government organizations).
The passing of seven years marks the beginning of a new process for the survivors. Legally, any person who is missing for seven years is stipulated dead. With the expiry of seven years, the official death figure of 2002 riots will go up from 952 to 1,180. The 228 persons still missing will now be presumed dead. â€œWe have prepared a list of missing people and sent it to the revenue department, which would declare the missing persons as dead,â€ Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Balwant Singh said in Ahmedabad (Gujarat).
The details will be sent from the state revenue department to district collectorates, following the process of issuing death certificates and giving compensation to their relatives will begin. â€œOnce we have the list, we will start the process of declaring them as dead, inform the civic authorities to prepare their death certificates and subsequently, compensation claims will be processed,â€ Ahmedabad collector Harit Shukla said.
Though unofficial sources claim the figures of lives lost and persons gone missing to be much higher, official figures state 413 people had disappeared following the Gujarat carnage. Of these, 185 were found, and 228 are still missing, including 24 children and 27 women.
â€œAs per the procedure of law, we will have to revise the final figure of 2002 riots as missing persons are presumed as dead after seven years,â€ a senior official said. Most of the people went missing from February 27 to March 5, 2002. The revised list will therefore be completed by the first week of March.
With the Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court, probing some of the cases afresh, it has already revised the death toll of massacres in Naroda Patia, which has gone from 83 to 93 and in Naroda village, it has gone up to 11 from eight. While 99 are reported to be missing from Ahmedabad city, 76 from Panchamahal, 17 Dahod, 9 Ahmedabad district, 9 Sabarkantha, 15 Baroda, two Anand and one from Surat.
Therefore, the state will officially declare the missing persons dead and enable their kin to claim full compensation. Many of the survivors have given up hope of seeing the return of their loved ones. With the issuance of death certificates, at least now they can claim the state compensation package. Though Yaqoob from Panchmahal, Madeena Biwiâ€™s husband was killed, as he was declared missing, she could not claim the compensation. â€œNow I will be able to access the bank account,â€ she said.
Scars of the carnage will never heal, just as the atrocities will remain as an indictment against India herself.
In the opinion of a senior lawyer and human rights activist Mukul Sinha: â€œSeven years ago, if Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his police had not instigated the ordinary people of Gujarat by describing the Godhra incident as a pre-planned terrorist attack of one community against the other, the genocide that followed from February 28, 2002 would have never happened.â€
Commenting on the courtâ€™s ruling that there was no â€œterrorist conspiracyâ€ in Godhra-incident, Sinha said: â€œThe most important development in the seventh year of the Godhra attack is this.
The high courtâ€™s decision defeats the entire charade of Gujarat Chief Minister Modi that the assault on Muslims was provoked by the Godhra incident. Now that the truth of Godhra is finally emerging, time has come to appeal for peace and amity between the two communities, who are inseparable in this country.â€