But they remained out of bounds for the media

A sense of relief prevailed in many houses in the Signal Falia and Polon Bazaar localities in Godhra town as those acquitted in the train burning case returned home and rejoined their families.

But the family members of the 31 convicted were in despair, not knowing how long they would have to wait before their near and dear ones returned home.

The special fast track court, constituted by the Gujarat High Court on the orders of the Supreme Court, has fixed February 25 as the date for hearing to decide the quantum of punishment. All those who might be awarded jail terms up to 10 years could return home within the next few days or months as most of them had already spent nearly nine years behind bars.

On the advice of the advocates, who represented the accused before the special court, those acquitted and their family members have decided to shun the media, at least for the time being. “No interaction with the media” was the stock reply from all of them.

Media kept out

Saeed Umarji, son of Moulana Umarji, who the prosecution had alleged to be the “mastermind” behind the “conspiracy” but was acquitted by the special court on Tuesday, has stopped picking up his mobile, and so do the other members of the family. Mr. Saeed Umarji so far was the main intermediary between the media and the family members of those arrested in connection with the train burning, and they even readily gave their reaction to the court's judgment on Tuesday, but not anymore. The relatives close to the Umarji family said all members were “too tired” to talk to the media.

In fact, harassed by frequent calls from various media organisations, Moulana Umarji had decided to convene a media conference at his residence in Godhra so that he was not required to talk to each of them separately. But in the interim period came the virtual “gag order” from their advocate.

When the media representatives arrived for the conference, they were treated nicely but returned empty-handed; not a word about how were they treated when they were in the Sabarmati Central Jail, nor about how they felt after being acquitted.

No answer to whether they were virtually treated as “terrorists” since they were originally booked under the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act . “If there is anything, we will talk after February 25,” was all they had to tell the media.

They would not say the reasons for their shunning the media but sources close to the advocates said they were worried that their unintentional critical remarks against the government or about the treatment meted out to them in the jail could adversely impact the 31 convicted.

“After being nearly nine years in jail without committing any crime, as the acquittal now proved, they are naturally angry or at least unhappy and may blurt out before the media. Let the entire case be finally decided on or after February 25 by the court,” sources close to the defence lawyers said.

In Godhra town, the police continued to maintain tight security, but the situation remained normal and the atmosphere congenial. The life was normal even in Signal Falia and Polon Bazaar localities where most of the accused lived.

The kin of the acquitted rued the loss of the precious years from the lives of their dear ones, but were generally happy that at least they have returned home.

Of the 63 acquitted, four are still in jail being held for other crimes while 16 of the other acquitted, being already out on bail, were allowed to go home after the necessary formalities at the local police stations.

The remaining 43 were released from the high-security Sabarmati Central Jail late Tuesday evening after completing all formalities and were taken in two State transport buses, arranged by the police, to Godhra which they reached around midnight.