Gujarat riots, judge desai ignored evidence

New Delhi, January 10, 2019 (PPI-OT): Human rights activist, Harsh Mander, has said that Special SIT court judge, P.B. Desai ignored evidence that former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the rage of the mob.

Harsh Mander in his recently released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India” said the judge instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob.

He says that the judge, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Ehsan Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, including Chief Minister Modi, pleading that security forces be sent to disperse the crowd and rescue those against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege.

Harsh Mander, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, quoted late journalist, Kuldip Nayar, as having said that Ehsan Jafri had desperately telephoned him, begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was watching the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

Mander contends that Ehsan Jafri did everything within his power to protect those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to take his life instead and in a show of valour went out to plead and negotiate with the angry crowd. “When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the final vain bid on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob. “He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

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