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2002 post Godhra riots: Trial concludes in Gulberg Society massacre case

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The trial of Gulberg Society massacre of 2002 post Godhra riots concluded on Tuesday following completion of arguments by victims’ lawyer. Praying to hold all the accused guilty in the case, the victims’ lawyer sought harshest punishment for the accused. The special trial court has kept the next hearing on Monday for some clarification and on that day the date for pronouncement of order will be decided.

Appearing for the victims, lawyer S M Vora argued before the special judge P B Desai that questions raised by the defence pointing at inconsistency and inaccuracies in the statements of witnesses should not be considered as “those who lost their loved ones in the genocide may not remember the exact details since they all were trying to save themselves and their kins.” He said that the court must take the background of the case into consideration since the local police tried to derail investigation.

Vora pointed out how the then police inspector K G Erda himself lodged the complaint and took up the investigation. He alleged that it was criminal negligence by Erda who “deliberately didn’t make any efforts to identify the dead bodies of victims, neither he took any step to preserve the bodies for investigation, instead he allowed the bodies to decay.” Vora argued that the whole incident was part of a conspiracy to target Muslim as the mob kept shouting slogans to “kill people from minority community.”

Vora also claimed that the SIT didn’t investigate the case properly and had the victims’ lawyers not got involved many of the accused including Erda would not have been made accused in the case. However, special judge Desai objected to Vohra’s claim stating that this is not the right forum to accused the SIT as the case is monitored by the Supreme Court. Desai is the fourth judge presiding over the trial who will ultimatley be pronouncing the order.

Earlier, the defence lawyers had argued that the witnesses in this case have wrongly testified against the handful of accused out of a mob of thousands. The defence even alleged that “the so-called witnesses are robotic and gave statements as dictated by their lawyers and NGOs.” The defence also raised questions on credibility of star witnesses who are silent on private firing by Ehsan Jafri, which according to defence lawyers, provoked the mob to attack.

However, the SIT lawyer R C Kodekar argued that “there was nothing special about private firing and not mentioning about it by the witnesses is not material in the case. What is material is that a large number of people had gathered outside the Gulberg society shouting provocative slogans against the minority community. The gathering of such a mob itself was part of a conspiracy which resulted into the massacre.”

69 people were killed in Gulberg Society including ex-Congress Parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri. Jafri’s widow Zakia filed a case against the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and others for allegedly orchestrating the riots. The case was investigated by the SIT that gave clean chit to Modi in 2012. After SIT’s report was upheld by a metropolitan magistrate last year, Zakia moved a petition in the high court challenging the appeal where the matter is pending.

During the six-year trial, 338 witnesses deposed. The case is one of the nine of the 2002 riots probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. Of the 66 accused, nine are behind the bars for the last 13 years while others are out on bail.

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