Thursday, November 29, 2012

Voice for the victims

Ninety-seven Muslims were killed and many injured when a mob attacked Naroda Patiya on February 28, 2002 in the worst riots case in the aftermath of the Godhra train fire. While the case was initially investigated by the Ahmedabad Crime Branch, the Supreme Court later handed it over to the SIT.
Verdict: August 29, 2012
Acquitted: 29
Convicted: 32
people, including BJP MLA Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi who have been sentenced to life imprisonment
Govind Parmar
On August 29, minutes after the judgment in the Naroda Patiya case, Govind Parmar stood outside the special court, doing his best to avoid the battery of media crew and their cameras. It didn’t matter that he had just won one of the most high-profile cases in recent times—Naroda Patiya, where 97 people were killed on February 28, 2002.
“I can’t sit down and do nothing when there are human rights violations against Dalits, Muslims or people from any of the weaker sections. I believe that Naroda Patiya was a genocide where people were killed and raped,” says Parmar, a 36-year-old Dalit from a village in Surendranagar district of Gujarat.
Parmar, who is associated with Behavioural Science Centre, a voluntary group in Ahmedabad, started visiting relief camps in the city a couple of months after the riots. “Initially, when I used to visit the camps, people were hostile. They would say Hindus had killed their kin and I was, after all, a Hindu. It took me a lot of effort to win their confidence,” says Parmar.
After studying the Naroda case papers, Parmar and his team found many lapses in the police investigation. The National Human Rights Commission and others pointed out these lapses in a petition to the Supreme Court, which then set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the case further.
Parmar says the case that moved him most was that of Bibi Bano, an eyewitness in the Naroda case who lost everyone in her family, including her husband, and faced threats and bribes from the accused to retract her statements.
After the Naroda massacre, she got a hefty compensation and moved to Vatva, an area in the eastern part of Ahmedabad. Her sudden wealth attracted a man who would harass her, asking her to marry him. When she refused, he burnt her to death. “I took personal interest in that case and the accused was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. I was witness to this woman’s pain as she stayed in hospital for a month before her death,” says Parmar. “Had Bibi Bano not been widowed in the riots, she would not have had to face all that trouble. Such was the indirect impact of the riots on the victims.”
Speaking of the threats and inducements the witnesses were subjected to, he says, “One key witness to the massacre was framed in a false murder case. We fought for him and he was ultimately acquitted by a criminal court. Similarly, one of the accused in the case used to threaten a witness and got a criminal case registered against the witness’s brother. We not only got the witness’s brother acquitted in the case, but also got the harasser’s bail cancelled.”
So far, says Parmar, he hasn’t faced threats himself. “But after these convictions, who knows? People might hit back at me for what I have done for the victims,” he says.