Hundreds of relatives of those accused in the Naroda-Patiya case gathered on the premises of the City Family Court in western Ahmedabad, waiting anxiously through a steady downpour. At 3.50 p.m. Special Trial Court judge Jyotsna Yagnik finished delivering her verdict, sentencing BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani to 18 years of imprisonment for criminal conspiracy and murder, and another 10 years for arson; Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi to imprisonment till death, and 29 other accused to life imprisonment. As the crowd got restless and many of the relatives of the accused broke down and cried, the police rushed to cordon off the entrance to the court.
“Ninety-six people were killed without any provocation on their part and 125 were grievously injured. Grant of reprieve would be misplaced, unwarranted, and would aggravate the grief of the victims,” the judge read out her order, calling the post-Godhra riots in Naroda-Patiya “targeted, systematic.”
Judgment brings cheer
An hour later, families in Naroda-Patiya were still cheering while watching the news unfold on their television sets, greeting each other with “Mubarak,” shaking hands and embracing. “A woman judge has given such a just verdict and so many witnesses who testified were women too,” said a jubilant Fatima Bi Mohammed Yusuf Shaikh. Some expressed their relief with reservations. “Only the pawns have been sent to jail, the main political culprits are still ruling like kings,” said Kamru Nissa, her neighbour. Her sister was among the over 100 women detained by the police when they tried to organise a peaceful protest in this neighbourhood to challenge Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavna fast last September.
Many recounted the events of February 28, 2002 when over 800 Muslim families from this haphazardly-built settlement on the eastern outskirts of Ahmedabad desperately tried to flee mobs.
“The police were present on the road near the Noorani mosque, but when the mob started attacking us in the morning they did not help. I ran with my two daughters, then seven and 15 years old, my mother, my sister-in-law and her one-year-old son and hid on the terrace of Gangotri housing society building nearby. But the mob reached there too,” recounted Farzana Ayub Khan. “Someone poured fuel over me. They broke my seven-year old daughter Reshma’s hands with rods, then they raped and stabbed my other daughter. My back was burning and my clothes melted. I tried to roll on the ground to douse the fire,” she said.
Farzana’s and several hundred such families from Naroda-Patiya, who managed to survive, spent the next seven months in relief camps in Shah Alam.
On Friday, many families made plans to go together to a dargah in Shah Alam where their resilient struggle for survival had started.
Naroda-Patiya and Gulberg Society witnessed some of the most gruesome acts of violence during the 2002 riots. Among those killed in Naroda-Patiya was Kausar Bano, who was nine months pregnant. The local residents, with the help of NGOs Citizens for Justice and Peace and Sahr-Waru, fiercely contested the defence lawyers’ claims that incident was concocted. “I saw them split open Kausar Bano’s womb; how can they say the incident was concocted?” said Jannat Bi Kallubhai Sheikh, one of five key witnesses. Residents said that while all the witnesses had stayed back, many families in the neighbourhood left town two days before the court passed its verdict, fearing a violent retaliation.