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Who is Zakia Jafri, and why is she challenging a clean chit given to Narendra Modi?

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

On November 26, the Supreme Court will hear Zakia Jafri’s petition challenging the clean chit given to the then Gujarat Chief Minister and current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, by the Special Investigation team (SIT) set up to probe the “larger conspiracy” in the post-Godhra riots, especially in the Gulbarg Society massacre. She has challenged the Gujarat High Court’s order of October 5, 2017, rejecting her plea. The SIT, appointed by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI Director R.K. Raghavan, filed a closure report in February 2012, contending that there was no “prosecutable evidence” against Mr. Modi and others mentioned in Ms. Jafri’s complaint.

Why is she leading this?

She is the widow of late MP and Congress leader Ehsan Jafri, who was among the 69 people killed by a mob during the 2002 riots. She survived the massacre at Gulbarg Society, a middle and upper middle class residential colony in north Ahmedabad. The residents were attacked, their houses torched and people burnt alive after the Godhra train fire, in which 59 pilgrims were charred to death.

What happened in 2002?

On February 28, 2002, a mob of several thousand people gathered outside the residential colony. Eventually, the houses were set on fire one after another. The residents sought shelter at Jafri’s bungalow. However, rioters did not spare even his bungalow and torched it, killing 69 people, including the former parliamentarian, who kept pleading for help from the administration for hours. Ms. Zakia, who had hidden on a room on the first floor, survived the attack. On June 17, 2016, almost 14 years after the massacre, the trial court delivered its verdict in the Gulbarg Society case. The court convicted 24 persons and awarded life sentences to 11 accused, 10-year imprisonment to one accused and a seven-year sentence to 12. The trial court described the killings as the “darkest day in the history of civil society of Gujarat.” The trial court and the SIT held that the massacre was prompted by firing from Ehsan Jafri’s weapon from his bungalow.

What was the complaint?

In April 2009, the Supreme Court ordered a probe into the role of Mr. Modi, his Cabinet colleagues, top bureaucrats and others in the “larger conspiracy” behind the 2002 riots, in which over 1,200 people were killed. Before moving the Supreme Court, she approached the police to file a case against those named in her complaint and subsequently the High Court. However, neither the police nor the High Court registered her complaint or ordered any probe into her allegations.

Why has it been so difficult?

Ms. Jafri, now over 80, has been fighting for justice ever since she first approached the police in 2006. After the SIT filed a closure report, the complainant was given an opportunity to be heard through a protest petition before the closure report was accepted by a magisterial court and then the higher judiciary.

However, the magisterial court dismissed her protest petition, while accepting the closure report. The High Court upheld the magisterial court’s ruling accepting the closure report and dismissed the protest petition.

What next?

A Supreme Court Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Deepak Gupta was initially supposed to hear her plea on November 19 but deferred it to November 26, saying “the matter will take some time for hearing.”


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