Even as attacks continued to occur six weeks after the Godhra attacks, the Gujarat state administration was engaged in a massive cover-up of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad's extensive involvement. The state government's claims to have arrested 2,500 people in early March in connection to post-Godhra violence were undermined by reports claiming that no BJP, VHP, or Bajrang Dal activists were among those arrested. Police officials have either refused to name them in the police reports-FIRs-or under pressure from the state administration have booked some under less serious charges.222 Many police officers who have pursued charges against leaders of the attacks on Muslims, or those who tried to maintain law and order during the attacks, have since been transferred. Muslims in the state have been denied equal protection of the law and continue to be arbitrarily detained and booked on false charges following combing operations in Muslim neighborhoods.
Impunity for BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal Members
According to press reports, numerous BJP and VHP leaders and members have been accused of murder, arson, rioting with deadly weapons, and conspiracy, among other crimes, in the police reports filed following the massacres in Naroda Patia and Gulmarg Society, although few if any have been charged.223
Police reports obtained by the Associated Press name a specific BJP leader as having led the attack on Gulmarg Society while pinpointing the responsibilities of named VHP leaders for participation in the killings at Naroda Patia:
One report said nine people, including local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Deepak Patel, headed Hindus who burned to death 42 people, including former Parliament member Ehsan Jaffrey, in the Muslim neighborhood known as Gulbarg Society in Meghaninagar. "These persons, armed with weapons, led a mob of 20,000 to 22,000, which attacked Gulbarg Society and set it ablaze," said the report by Kirit Erda, senior inspector-in-charge of the Meghaninagar police station. "They first burned to death 18 residents and later burned 24 more persons in the same place," said Erda's report, written in the Gujarati language.
A separate report dealing with the Naroda killings blamed members of the World Hindu Council. "The carnage at Naroda Patia was the handiwork of a mob of 6,000, which was led by Babu Bajrangji, Kishan Kosani, T.J. Rajput, Harish Rohit and Raju Goyal," said the report written by N.T. Bala, an assistant police sub-inspector. "These people, possessing deadly weapons, led the mob of about 6,000, all belonging to the Hindu community," said Bala's report. It details how the mob set fire to 24 homes, killing the 65 Muslims inside.224
According to the Associated Press, the Gujarat state joint secretary for the VHP Jaideep Patel confirmed that all five men were local leaders of the organizations but charged that the reports were false: "Police have falsely implicated my men in this case," Patel said. "Without doing any investigation, the FIR was lodged by the assistant sub-inspector in link with some anti-Hindu forces"225
Patel himself is reportedly named in a police complaint as one of the attackers who set fire to a house in Naroda Patia:
The FIR mentions Mr. Patel and five others as having led a mob of about 1,500 to 2,000 people which attacked the building and set it afire with a large number of people trapped inside. It also claims that the mob looted household goods and other valuable material. The FIR, filed under various sections, names Mr. Patel and others for rioting, dacoity [banditry] and arson among other charges.226
Officials, however, reportedly cited state government instructions not to arrest the leaders of these and other attacks. According to an article in the Asian Age:
"It is politically incorrect to arrest them and we are under tremendous pressure to not to act against them," a top police official told. These six persons [involved in the Naroda Patia attacks], notorious for their fanaticism, have not been arrested by the police so far and top home department officials say that this is because of the state government's instructions.
A senior Indian Police Service official admitted, "While most of the policemen have consciously avoided naming any BJP, VHP or Bajrang Dal activist in the FIRs, some conscientious police officials have done so. Now they are under severe pressure to make amends."227
To probe the two incidents, the Gujarat government has appointed Assistant Commissioner of Police P.N. Barot, an officer reportedly handpicked by the VHP. According to an article in the Asian Age, the appointment was made despite "a strong representation from a section of the Gujarat police that the Gulbarg Society killings and the Naroda massacre need a proper investigation." The article added that the "Gujarat police are distressed with the VHP functioning as a parallel authority" and that "both the cases do not fall under the jurisdiction of Mr. Barot, who is well known for his VHP connection."228
Manipulation of Police Reports
An attorney assisting victims filing police reports in Ahmedabad, who asked not to be identified, told Human Rights Watch that in many cases the police were misreporting statements in the First Information Reports (FIRs) and omitting the names of the accused. The National Human Rights Commission also expressed concern over allegations of "distorted or poorly recorded" FIRs (see below). The attorney told Human Rights Watch:
People don't trust the local police. They are saying that all this happened in their presence. There have been some arrests and some of the police have tried to save people. When witnesses file complaints, the police enter their statements according to their preference. They don't file complaints properly. People are uneducated and the police don't show them the statement, they just get them to sign it. The police don't record statements properly. In some cases, they won't write the name of the accused. In one case, for example, seven people were identified but they didn't write their names. This area is covered by the Madhavpura police station but this is happening in all stations, also at the Sabarmati police station.229
Similar problems have been documented in rural Gujarat. Nearly 137 persons from Sabarkantha district, for example, have reportedly petitioned the high court claiming that the police have not filed their FIRs properly: "Only cases referring to a mob attack are being registered. Police turn a deaf ear to others, where the perpetrators have been identified."230
The effect of these FIRs was made clear by advocate Bhushan Oza, a member of the Citizens' Initiative that has collected a large number of what are know as "omnibus FIRs," where the accused is identified only as "an unruly mob" or "a mob of 10,000." Oza told the Times of India: "You need to hold an identification parade based on the information given in the FIR.... The procedure has to be completed before taking a particular case to court. You can't identify an accused for the first time in the court. The law does not allow this and there are judgments to this effect based on the 1985 riots"231
On April 24, 2002, India's National Commission for Women criticized the police in Gujarat for not registering cases of violence against women. Commission chairperson Purnima Advani stated that "the number of FIRs registered was much less than the incidents of violence against women reported to the NCW."232
The transfer of police officers who tried to stop mobs from attacking Muslims has come under close scrutiny by the National Commission for Minorities and the NHCR (see below). In a letter to Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ashok Narayan, reported in the Indian Express, Gujarat Director General of Police A.K. Chakravarty too took strong exception to the transfer of certain IPS officers who had taken steps to maintain law and order during the post-Godhra violence in their districts. Among the transfers cited:
Kutch SP Vivek Srivastav has been transferred as Deputy Commissioner of Police (Prohibition and Excise). He had arrested a Home Guards commandant having VHP links, and some other influential people for creating trouble in the border district.
Bhavnagar SP Rahul Sharma has been shunted out to Ahmedabad as DCP (Control). He had successfully thwarted an attempt by a mob to attack a madrasa [Islamic school] on Ghogha Road, and rescued 400 inmates. In the firing that he had ordered to beat back the mob, four persons were killed.
Sharma had also registered cases against attackers despite pressure from local BJP leaders. This is Sharma's fifth transfer in the last one year.
Banaskantha SP Himanshu Bhatt, known for his competence, has been shifted to the Intelligence Bureau at Gandhinagar, because he had suspended a PSI for not taking action against a mob which went about torching shops and houses. Bhatt did not withdraw the suspension orders in spite of pressure from higher-ups.
DCP (Zone IV), Ahmedabad City, P B Godhia, who had registered a case against Naroda BJP MLA Mayaben Kodnani and VHP leader Jaydeep Patel, has been put in charge of Civil Defence. He had booked several other VHP activists for their alleged involvement in violence.233
A superintendent of police in Rajasthan faced similar protests by the BJP state unit for taking action against rioters there.234
The arbitrary detention and filing of false charges against Muslim youth during and after the initial attacks in Gujarat remains largely unchecked. An attorney working in Vadodara and Ahmedabad told Human Rights Watch that the detention and filing of false charges against Muslims was rampant in these cities.235 When Human Rights Watch asked residents of Chartoda Kabristan camp if they had been able to go home since arriving at the camp, one male teenager responded, "The government is with the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. They are combing our areas. If we go back there, to our homes, the police fire on them, and take them to jail to show that they have arrested people."236
The mullana (cleric) of the Chotti Masjid mosque near Barasache ki Chali, Gomptipur, told Human Rights Watch he was beaten by the police on February 28, 2002 as they searched for the Muslim boys who had run inside his mosque for protection:
The police surrounded us. Some children had run inside the mosque for protection. The police pulled me out, slapped me, and hit me with the butt of their gun twice. They asked me for keys to the inside room and I said I didn't have them so they hit me again. Then they grabbed the boys and took them and beat them. There were ten or twelve of them. They left me behind. Those boys were arrested and have not returned. Five people were killed here in police firing, those cases have been filed against the boys that they took.237
Bullets had scarred the walls of the mosque viewed by Human Rights Watch. The blood of a young Muslim boy who, according to witnesses, ran into the mosque after being stabbed with a sword still remained on the wall. He too was dragged away by the police.
They were among twenty-six Muslim youth arrested between February 28 and March 1 and taken to the area police station before being transferred to the central station. One resident involved in following the legal proceedings told Human Rights Watch about the nature of cases filed against them: "A woman named Jainab was burned alive here by the police and the RSS. That case is on our boys under Section 302 [murder] of the Indian Penal Code and there are many other charges against them. They were hiding in the mosque and they arrested them."238
A Citizens' Initiative report on violence against women in Gujarat found that in Millat Nagar, a neighborhood then-under curfew in Ahmedabad, "under the guise of `combing operations' the Police are picking up young Muslim boys at random. Mothers live in constant fear.... So acute is this fear of the Police that even for small tasks to be done outside the home women venture out more rather than men. No one knows why and under what charge these young men are being arrested."239
A People's Union for Civil Liberties report on violence against women in Vadodara, Gujarat, also documents numerous instances of police abuse against women during house to house searches ("combing operations") in which male family members were beaten and arrested by the police.240
Even a Muslim member of the Gujarat legislative assembly was falsely implicated in an FIR. According to a report by the Asian Age, Faroukh Sheikh, a Congress MLA [member of legislative assembly] representing the sensitive Dariapur area, was named in an FIR charging him with leading a mob to assault Hindu business establishments in Sindh Bazaar and Revdi Bazaar (see section on Attacks on Hindus). Sheikh was in fact in the state assembly that day.241
222 Robin David and Leena Misra, "Legal experts fear manipulation of FIRs," Times of India, March 26, 2002.
223 "VHP, BJP workers named in FIR on riots," Times of India, March 4, 2002.
224 Rupak Sanyal, "Indian police reports say governing party official and Hindu nationalist leaders led mobs," Associated Press, March 5, 2002.
226 Manas Dasgupta, "Gujarat VHP leader named in FIR on Naroda incident," Hindu, March 19, 2002.
228 "Pro-VHP officer to prove worst massacres," Asian Age, March 25, 2002.
229 Human Rights Watch interview, attorney, Ahmedabad, March 22, 2002.
230 "Police not naming names in FIRs," Times of India, March 26, 2002.
231 Robin David and Leena Misra,, "Many FIRs' but culprits go scot-free," Times of India, March 24, 2002.
232 "Women Commission indicts Gujarat Govt," Press Trust of India.
233 Bashir Pathan, "Modi ties hands of cops who put their foot down," Indian Express, March 26, 2002.
234 Sukhmani Singh, "Varanasi to Ajmer: SP braves saffron rage to keep peace," Indian Express, March 18, 2002.
235 Human Rights Watch interview, attorney M.D., Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
236 Human Rights Watch interview, sixteen-year-old male resident of Chartoda Kabristan camp, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
237 Human Rights Watch interview, Chotti Masjid mullana, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002.
238 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Ahmedabad, March 23, 2002. Other charges filed against the Muslim youth include: obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions (IPC, Sec. 186); disobedience to an order duly promulgated by a public servant (IPC, Sec. 188); voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty (IPC, Sec. 332); causing hurt by endangering the life or personal safety of others (IPC, Sec. 337); assault, or the use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty (IPC, Sec. 353); and mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc. (IPC, Sec. 436). Section 135 of the Bombay Police Act, which authorizes arrest and punishment for violations of Section 37 that permits police to prohibit various kinds of public assembly, was also invoked. The pattern is not unique to Gujarat. A study undertaken by former Inspector General (Border Security Force) Vibhuti Narain Rai on police neutrality during communal riots found that "even in riots where the number of Muslims killed was many times more than the Hindus, it was they who were mainly arrested, most searches were conducted in their houses, and curfew imposed in a harsher manner in their localities. This observation holds good for even those riots where almost [all those] killed were Muslims" (emphasis in original). Asia-Pacific Human Rights Network, "Gujarat riots point to need for police reform."
239 Citizens' Initiative, "The Survivors Speak."
240 People's Union Civil Liberties, "Women's Perspectives."
241 "FIR says Muslim MLA led riot mob," Asian Age, March 23, 2002.