VHP takes out a rally in Godhra; Zakia Jafri and victims of riots attend prayer meeting

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad held prayer meetings and took out a rally in Godhra in Gujarat on Monday to observe the 10th anniversary of the train carnage, while relatives of the victims and survivors of the consequent communal riots gathered at the Gulberg Society here to mark a decade of the gory incident.

Security was beefed up in Godhra and some 2002 riot-hit areas, particularly Ahmedabad.

The VHP organised prayer meetings here and various other parts of the State with its international president Pravin Togadia leading a rally in Godhra. He visited the burnt S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express — still kept at the local railway yard — and offered tributes to the 59 victims of the train carnage, mostly VHP karsevaks returning from Ayodhya.

Fight against terror

From the railway yard, the VHP took out a rally through the town. Dr. Togadia claimed that the rally marked the launch of a nation-wide campaign to fight terrorism. “Hindustan Against Terrorism” would bust the local network of various international terror groups in the country, he said. Several programmes were organised in various riot-affected areas in the State. Tension was palpable in Godhra, but the day passed off peacefully. Various voluntary organisations conducted mass marriages for Hindus and Muslims to demonstrate communal harmony. “We have forgotten 2002 and are moving ahead with the mainstream,” a spokesman of the Samuh Nikah Samiti said in Godhra.

About 45 voluntary organisations, which advanced their programmes by a day in view of the national trade union strike on Tuesday, gathered people at the Gulberg Society and led them through the still-abandoned co-operative housing society, recounting the horrors of the gory tragedy 10 years ago. A collective resolve was renewed to continue the struggle for justice to the survivors and punishment to the perpetrators and masterminds of the carnage.

The organisers said the 10-day “Insaaf ki Dagar Par” programme at the Gulberg Society and in other places in the city for communal harmony and justice for the victims, which would include an exhibition, kavi sammelan, screening of documentary films and meetings, would be videographed and placed on the Internet for the world to remember the gory days.

At the Gulberg Society in the Chamanpura area, where the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, was among the 69 people burnt alive, his wife Zakia Jafri, and son Tanveer Jafri, who now lives in Surat, and other family members, victims of the riots of Naroda-Patiya, Naroda Gaam, Sardarpura, Ode and other places gathered. Verses from the holy Koran were read.

Some hung prayers and wishes, written on pieces of cloth to the branches of a tree, “Tree of Hope.” In the evening, a Sufi music programme was organised to pray for the victims of the riots.

Regretting that justice had still not been done to the victims of the communal riots, the former Additional Director-General of Police, R.B. Shreekumar, reiterated his allegation of “state-sponsored” violence. Justice Suresh Hosbet, a retired judge who was one of the judges on the citizens' panel set up by the Citizens for Justice and Peace then to probe the riots, said the wounds could not be healed until justice was provided to the victims.

“Those who advocate forgiveness for the administration for Gujarat having grown in progress and development hold no meaning for the victims of the riots. What does the so-called development mean to them when the rapists are still free,” he asked.

Justice Hosbet said Chief Minister Narendra Modi supporting the “state bandh” against the train carnage itself amounted to “abdication” of constitutional authority and could not be condoned. “It's time to stand united and pray for justice for the victims. The accused are running scot-free and undeterred as they have the government's backing,” he alleged.

He said the panel had recorded statements of over 2,000 witnesses, many of whom, including the former Minister, Haren Pandya, who was later killed in broad daylight, who had given testimony against Mr. Modi and had also provided evidence about the State government's alleged complicity in the riots. “The documents are lying with the Citizens for Justice and Peace and it is for the investigating authorities to seek the evidence and place them before the Supreme Court,” he said.

Tight security

The security arrangements were strengthened and additional police forces deployed in sensitive areas.