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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

The judgment of a special court in Ahmedabad, handing rigorous imprisonment to Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi for their involvement in the Naroda Patiya killings, will go far in boosting people’s faith in the judiciary.

The conviction by a Gujarat court of BJP legislator Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi along with 30 others for their role in the Naroda Patia massacre is the strongest judicial affirmation yet that large-scale communal violence is almost always a product of pre-meditated political planning and calculation.

An estimated 95 Muslims, many of them hapless women and children, were hacked to death in Naroda, a minority neighbourhood in Ahmedabad targeted by armed mobs under the indulgent gaze of the Gujarat government in the wake of the February 27, 2002 Godhra train carnage.

The verdict is a landmark one. It is for the first time that an Indian court has convicted a sitting MLA — Ms Kodnani was also a minister in the Narendra Modi government from 2007 to 2009 — for mob aggression against members of a religious community. Secondly, the court has not only upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy against the 32 individuals convicted, it has also found one of them guilty of rape and sexual harassment.

It has been more than 10 years since the massacre at Naroda Patia. The survivors and witnesses of the incident are celebrating the special court verdict in the case, but said they will never be able to pardon chief minister Narendra Modi.

"The court and investigating agencies have to decide on the role of chief minister Narendra Modi it the riots. Also we have no hatred against him. But we will never forgive him as even after a decade the CM hasn't even visited us once," said Shakila Bano, who lost 10 members of her family and has been one of the prime witnesses in the case.

"As a chief minister he didn't even come to see our state or said a few words that would help us salve our wounds," said Nasreen Sheikh, another witness in the case.

The Patia residents said that Modi can't now distance himself from the case as one of their forefront party leaders has been sentenced in the case.

"Kodnani was made a women and child development minister even when she was accused in this case where women and children were burnt and chopped to death. What force acted upon the state government to ignore our allegations which the court has upheld? That is something Modi has to explain," said Salim Shiekh, Patia resident and a witness in the case against Kodnani.

Reacting to the verdict of the court, a victim of the Naroda Patiya riots, Fatima Bibi of Ahmedabad, expressed her happiness and said that the accused would now realise the graveness of their blunder.

She said, "We are happy that the court has given us justice. The accused would now realise the gravity of their blunder. After almost 10 years, I am now feeling relieved that the culprits have been punished."

Siddik Mansuri, a key witness in Kodnani’s case said, "The first stone pelting incident happened around 9.30 am on February 28. Later Kodnani instigated the mobs that became uncontrollable as they also had state patronage. The conviction of Kodnani has strengthened our faith in the rule of law. Hopefully such things will never be repeated."

Shakina Bibi Shaikh said, "In Naroda Patiya, Hindus and Muslims lived like brethren. But outsiders having vested interests divided us and created a mistrust which would live for generations. Those who disturbed this peace are now going to be behind bars. It gives me great satisfaction and consolation." Salim Shaikh said, "There was a clear nexus between mantri, santri and sarkari (ministers, police and government).

This has been exposed. However, it is mysterious why police officers such as K K Mysorewala and P MParkhi, who were involved in the violence, have been spared by SIT." Goriben Shaikh said, "The first and foremost person who should be tried is Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It is the government’s responsibility to protect all its citizens. If they fail in maintaining peace and order it’s a serious crime."

Social activist Teesta Setalvad, who has taken up the case of the post-Godhra riots victims in Gujarat, said they were "completely satisfied" with the manner in which the court had given "exemplary punishment".

"It is the first time that a politician's involvement in communal violence has been recognised," she said.

Auto-rickshaw driver Haroon Sheikh said that the conspirators of the crime have finally got the punishment they deserved.

"My wife and my son, who was only over a year old, were killed in front of my eyes by a mob along with 10 others of my family. I could not do anything to save them except watch helplessly," he said.

"I will not be able to come to terms with the incident knowing that those rich people are finally behind bars," he added.

Raza Sheikh, who was only 12 when he lost his mother and sister to this communal disharmony, said that their souls will now rest in peace.

"I was with my mother and sister when the riot broke out. My mother helped me jump a fence so that I could run to safety. I escaped, but my mother and sister could not. It tore me and my father apart when we had to go and identify their charred bodies three days later," he told IANS.

"My father will finally find some solace in the fact that the killers of his wife are suitably punished. His patience and dedication to my mother's memory has finally paid off," said Raza.

Dr. J.S.Bandukwala, vadodara based social activist, said that:

Muslims are relieved that justice has been done in Naroda Patia , after ten years. The horror of those days is frightening. To kill a pregnant woman Kausarbanu and then pull out the unborn child with a sword, and finally kill it and throw both mother and child into a raging fire. That was Babu Bajrangi. Note that he became very powerful and prominent within the BJP, after this dastardly incident. Had it not been for the heroic role of journalist Ashish Khaitan and later of the Supreme Court , this would never have come out.

Same was the case with Maya Kodnani. She distributed the killing weapons before the riots began. She encouraged the people to kill, murder and rape Muslims. Yet she was not penalised for her behaviour. Rather in the Islamophobic BJP, Maya became a hero. She rose fast with the blessings of L.K.Advani and Modi, became a Minister. Had it not been for the Supreme Court , nothing could have stopped her rise."

Mallika sarabhai, renowed human right activist said:

"If this kind of judgment had been given for Nelli or Delhi Sikh riots to 1993 Mumbai massacre, the later events may have been avoided. I thank the judiciary from the bottom of my heart."

On the Sentencing of the Naroda Patiya Convicts, she said:

"The sentencing of BJP MLA Maya Kodnani, Babubhai Bajrangi and 30 others to life imprisonment, must be seen as a step in the right direction"

Special Court Judge Jyotsana Yagnik would surely have taken into account the heinous acts committed by each of the convicted during the gruesome massacre at Naroda Patiya in February 2002, whilst awarding a different quantum to each one.

"The conviction and sentencing of these 32 persons must now come as a severe warning to several more high profile politicians and others, who still stand accused in the courts on various charges committed during those bloody days of 2002, in Gujarat.

The sentencing will also come as a small measure of relief for the victim-survivors, many of whom have lost more than one family member. It will be an added impetus for many who would like the complete truth of the Gujarat genocide to emerge as soon as possible. Hopefully, the process of justice will move faster now and that peace will reign for all, one day"

said Fr. Cedric Prakash sj Director of PRASHANT a human rights NGO

All India Milli Council state unit general secretary, Mufti Rizwan, welcomed the verdict but he strongly demanded death sentence for those who played key roles in the riots particularly Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi. He further said that in Akshargham case capital punishment was awarded to accused so why not in this most serious crime against humanity?

Political observers are keenly watching the fallout of the verdict, which they feel, may have significant bearing on the assembly elections slated later this year. Observers point out that the outcome of Mansa by-election, in which BJP lost to Congress in March early this year, is a case in point. A few months prior to by election, a local court in Mehsana had given verdict in Sardarpura riot case and sentenced as many as 31 accused Hindus to life.

This led to resentment amongst the members of that community, against ruling BJP and went against its candidate, and they argue. "BJP, which emerged as the main beneficiary of the post-Godhra riots felt the heat as court verdicts started coming in these cases after 2007".

"Already judgments have come in as many as 51 such cases. Several of those languishing in the jail were the only earning members of their families. Already resentment has started brewing among many of the affected members who feel that they were misguided and used by many to come to power," observed a political analyst.

On the other hand, there is another section, which disputes this argument and maintains that a large number of convictions could lead to perception that the government ensured cops conducted the initial probe in a fair manner and without any bias. This, they maintain may give a boost to chief minister’s Sadbhavana mission and help him acquire a secular image.

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