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Secular Righteousness

Secular Righteousness

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Author: Uday Mahurkar
Publication: India Today
Date: July 22, 2002

Introduction: The forensic report on the Godhra massacre has come in handy for rival

‘The Godhra incident and the subsequent communal riots were a state-sponsored
conspiracy by the Government of Gujarat in connivance with the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad and its associate organisations to ruin the Muslim community.’

-A report of the legal cell of the Islami Relief Committee, which is helping the riot-
affected Muslims.

‘The Forensic Science Laboratory report only indicates that there was deeper planning
on the part of the attackers in the Godhra incident.’

-Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Over four months after 59 passengers were burnt to death in coach S-6 of the
Sabarmati Express, the question of Godhra continues to haunt the nation. Last week,
the mystery deepened as a report of the Gujarat Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) said
that the inflammable material used for the attack could not have been thrown into the
train compartment from outside. Their finding: that at least 60 litres of petrol were
carried into the compartment and poured out before the flames were lit.

The FSL report has predictably opened up a Pandora’s box, with politicians on either
side of the political divide selectively picking portions of the report to suit their
viewpoints. Congress leader and former chief minister Shankersingh Vaghela sees the
report as proof that the Godhra massacre was a conspiracy engineered by the Hindutva
brigade to foment communal tension. ‘Rubbish,’ is the retort of the BJP camp, which
feels that the massacre was a meticulously planned operation by Muslim
fundamentalists. As charges and counter-charges flew thick and fast, India Today tried
to corroborate the FSL findings with first person accounts of the survivors and railway
employees who were present at the site.

To recap: at 7.42 a.m. on February 27, the Sabarmati Express arrived at the Godhra
railway station, nearly three and a half hours behind schedule. Among its passengers
were hundreds of karsevaks, returning home after performing puja at Ayodhya. On the
platform, a minor scuffle erupted between the karsevaks and some tea vendors, most of
whom were Muslim. After a halt of five minutes, the train pulled out but stopped again
when the alarm chain was pulled.

Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered and began to pelt stones at the train. The karsevaks,
now heavily outnumbered, got into the coaches and shut the doors and windows. The
train resumed its journey but was again brought to a halt after covering barely half a

kilometre due to a mechanical snag. A mob, said to be more than a thousand strong,
then rushed towards the train and again began to pelt it with stones. It targeted three
coaches which carried karsevaks and set fire to coach S-6, killing 59 passengers.

The FSL team reached Godhra hours after the tragedy occurred and promptly took
samples of, among other things, jerry cans that they found near the railway track.
Several survivors of the massacre said they had seen the attackers, both men and
women, carrying jerry cans as well as swords and steel and iron pipes.

Among the measures that investigators took to unravel the mystery was to recreate the
entire scene with the help of FSL experts. An experiment on an empty rail coach
requisitioned from the railways convinced the forensic experts about one thing: though
cloth soaked in inflammable liquid might have been thrown into the coach through the
windows, the fire was fuelled by the petrol that had been poured inside.

The exercise threw up other notable findings. One, that as the train windows were at a
height of 7 ft from the ground, it would have been impossible for the attackers to
throw enough fuel through the windows to cause the inferno. Two, the portion of the
coach beneath the window on the exterior was not fully burnt. There were burn marks
only up to the level of the flooring of the coach. Experts surmise that if the liquid had
been thrown from outside, the entire exterior of the coach would have been scorched.
This indicated that the coach had burnt only to the level of the compartment’s flooring
because of the heat generated from inside by the massive fire.

Even as the exercise was being conducted, one of the 72 arrested in the case (the
investigators will name him only in the second chargesheet which they are expected to
file soon) made a revelation which backs the FSL theory that the coach was set on fire
after petrol had been poured from inside. He is reported to have said that when he,
along with a few fellow attackers, could not enter the compartment through the
windows they had broken, three of them ran to the rear of the bogie. Carrying jerry
cans filled with petrol, the trio had slit the canvas cover of the rear vestibule of bogie S-
6 with a sword. They broke open the door and entered the coach. Sensing the attack,
the passengers had already moved forward, leaving the rear berths vacant. So when the
attackers entered, they faced no opposition. They then opened one of the coach doors
to let in three more attackers who carried with them more petrol-filled jerry cans. The
cans emptied, they stepped out of the coach while the mob outside used burning cloth
tied to bamboo sticks to ignite the petrol. Within minutes, coach S-6 had become the
funeral pyre of the Ramsevaks and their co-passengers.

Investigators also traced another witness-again the police would not divulge his name,
only letting out the fact that he was a Muslim-through an army jawan whose life he had
saved. The witness, who had also saved the lives of two other travellers, identified three
of the attackers who had got down from the train after dousing coach S-6 with petrol
and were part of the mob trying to kill the jawan.

This account is among many that have helped the police in their investigations. Says
Crime Branch Deputy Inspector-General Rakesh Asthana: ‘We are on the verge of
cracking the case. There are only a few loose ends left. The way the attack was

executed, we have little doubt that the planning must have been done at least a day in
advance or even earlier’.

Then there are the eyewitness accounts of the survivors as well as the two drivers of
Sabarmati Express, Rajendrarao Jadhav and Mukesh Pachauri, and two Assistant
Station Masters (ASMs), R.P. Meena and A.K. Sharma. The two ASMs were on the
second floor of the A-cabin signal tower near which the train was brought to a halt.
Jadav told the investigators that when the train stopped, the two ASMs gestured to him,
asking him to take the train ahead.

Meena and Sharma told the investigators that from their high perch, they had seen
armed mobs rushing towards the train, shouting slogans like ‘Kaat dalo! Maar dalo!’ so
they motioned to the driver to move the train forward. But because of a mechanical
snag in the engine, the train stalled. In no time, a group of attackers had reached the
drivers and ordered them to remain in the engine. The frightened duo complied.

Survivors’ accounts too seem to support the view that the coach was burnt from inside.
Businessman Bachubhai Ladva, 46, was standing near one of the entrances of coach S-
6 when it stopped. He remembers mobs running towards the compartment and pelting
stones at it, forcing the passengers to close the windows and doors. Within minutes, the
attackers had broken 12 of the 18 windows on one side of the coach. When some of
the passengers retaliated, using whatever they could lay their hands on and hurling them
out of the broken windows, Ladva says he heard an attacker saying, ‘Chalo, peeche se
koshish karte hain.’ He then saw some assailants going towards the rear of the coach.

Vandana Patel, 21, was sitting on the lower berth of cabin three. When the attackers
tried to break the window grilles, she and her co-passengers tried to block the attack by
using mattresses and suitcases. But when a burning rag landed in the cabin, Patel ran
towards the door and managed to escape. Hetal Patel and Janak Panchal, fellow
passengers in coach S-6, also gave similar accounts.

The theory that there was a conspiracy behind the massacre gains credence in the light
of the accounts of the five firemen who fought the blaze. They have told investigators
that Haji Bilal, Godhra municipality councillor and prime accused in the case,
obstructed their fire tender and tried to prevent them from putting out the fire in the

Vijay Sharma, one of the firemen, says Bilal had called the fire brigade on the night of
February 26 and asked for the names of the firemen who would be on duty the next
morning. Coincidentally, that same evening a water tanker attached to the fire station
and a fire tender both developed serious engine snags. It would, of course, be naive to
think that conspirators depend on coincidences to accomplish their deadly missions.

Note: The following passages were edited in the English version. However, the Hindi
India Today (July 22, 2002) published the complete report. We have translated relevant
passages from Hindi.

The recent findings on the coach S6 burning in Godhra have been a great revelation.

Particularly, those who were exploiting the FSL report to put blame on the Sangh
Parivar for killing their own volunteers in order to provoke the anti-Muslim sentiments
cannot stomach the new evidences.

The FSL report was gleefully used by the Islami Relief Committee engaged in relief for
the Muslims in Gujarat and the members of Tabligi Jamat. The latter is a
fundamentalist group steadily spreading its roots in others parts of the country.
Incidentally Ghanchi Muslims of Godhra, and several accused in the burning of hapless
bogie of the Sabarmati Express, are the followers of the Tabligi Jamat.

The interesting fact is that the campaign of these organizations on the Godhra is similar
to what Jehadi organizations were preaching on their websites. These websites are
mainly operated from Pakistan and the Gulf countries. For example, the founder of
Pakistan-based organization Lashkar-e Toiba, Hafiz Saeed had written an article
(posted on the organization’s web-site) that regarded ‘the Godhra incident was a part of
a big conspiracy of the Hindutva organizations to spark anti-Muslim riots in India.’

It is a co-incidence that the campaign of these Muslim organizations on the Godhra
incident has been fashioned similarly what we saw after the attack on the World Trade
Centre on September 11, 2001. Some international Islamic organizations had repeatedly
claimed that the attack on the twin towers was a handy work of the Israeli detective
agency, Mosad, so that America would be forced to act against Muslim world.

Actually after the Godhra incident, some selfish interests purposely spread a rumour
that the Ram Sevaks had dragged a 16 year old Muslim girl inside the bogie at Godhra
station. And they cite this event to justify the Godhra massacre. But this rumour and
others too, quickly faded when some secularists declared them to be a fiction. A
noteworthy part is that the police investigated all the rumours of alleged agony and
persecution of the Muslim passengers by Ram Sevaks. However, some of them were
true but most of them were baseless. In fact the police found the behaviour of the Ram
Sevaks very normal towards some of the Muslim passengers. Imdad Ali, for instance,
who travelled in S2 compartment, did not get any trouble from the Ram Sevaks.

Later the railway authorities reported that a loud speaker on top of the mosque behind
the cabin A was continuously screaming, ‘Islam is in danger, Kill the Kafirs.’

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