Thursday, December 13, 2012


Nirjhari Sinha was always most interested in moonrocks and meteorites. Then the riots of 2002 happened and the scientist decided to do something about it, analyzing the call details of many VIPs, leading to the arrest of some

 What happens when a former scientist of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), who spent a lifetime studying moon rocks and meteorites, pores over 10 million phone calls made during the 2002 riots in Gujarat? The calls also include those exchanged between policemen and politicians during the three most infamous fake encounters in the state — Sohrabuddin Shiekh, his wife Kausarbi and Tulsiram Prajapati. The result is the long arm of law finally catching ministers, MLAs and trigger-happy top cops. 
    The Gujarat police had not even named BJP MLA Dr Maya Kodnani as an accused in the Naroda Patia massacre of 2002, where 97 people, including 35 children, were killed by rioters. But when the case was given to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), they turned to call data analysis done by scientist-turned-activist Nirjhari Sinha. It showed that Kodnani was at Naroda Patia during the peak of the killings on February 28, 2002. Although call data was not considered by the special judge hearing the case while sentencing Kodnani to life imprisonment, it played a crucial role during investigation and corroborating witness statements. 
    Similarly, Amit Shah, former minister of state for home in the Modi government, wasn’t shown as an accused by Gujarat police’s CID (crime) in the Prajapati fake encounter case. But Sinha’s analysis of call data is believed to be key evidence which led to Shah being named the kingpin in the killing in the CBI chargesheet that was recently filed. This, despite many of the call records being tampered with or destroyed. 
    Sinha says call data can help one trace location, duration, frequency and the persons involved. “By analyzing it, investigators get crucial information that can expose the nexus between criminals, police and politicians,” she says. “The accused police officers made hundreds of calls before and after Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausarbi were killed,” she says. “Tracking one officer’s calls can give you not only his location but also corroborate where the couple was hidden and where the killings most probably took place.” 
    Sinha says that one key officer’s phone was switched off when Kausarbi was killed, “but I was able to trace phone calls made by another policeman who was believed to be travelling with her body. It tracked locations such as the place Kausarbi’s body may have been burnt. The policeman’s statement says he was asked to collect wood to burn the body on the banks of a river; he followed those instructions. His phone call records show that he was by a riverbed in Illol, in Sabarkantha district on November 29, 2005, the day Kausarbi was killed.” Incidentally, Illol is the hometown of suspended IPS officer D G Vanzara, who is in jail since 2007 for his involvement in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. 
    But what made a scientist become a crime investigator? Born into a Gujarati Jain family in Ahmedabad, Sinha was extremely disturbed after the 2002 post-Godhra riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed. So, the science that helped her understand the cosmos, was put to more earthly use — nabbing conspirators of the 2002 violence. “The rule of law had been conveniently set aside for fanatical vote-bank politics,” she says. “The violence and deprivation of justice had alienated Muslims. They were losing faith in our democratic framework because their right to complain or seek legal help had been taken away.” 
    She had already helped found NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch with her activist husband Dr Mukul Sinha in 1987 and the duo jumped headlong into fighting for justice for the riot victims. Besides, she is also founding member of the New Socialist Movement and had assisted her husband when he challenged the Modi government during the Nanavati-Shah Commission, inquiring into the 2002 violence. 
    Her new vocation also gave new meaning during a dark period in her personal life. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. “It was sudden, shocking and depressing, but when there is a will, there is a way,” she says. “One day, I learnt about IPS officer Rahul Sharma submitting crucial evidence in a CD to the Justice U C Banerjee Commission, set up by the Centre to probe the train-burning at Godhra in 2002. The same evidence had also been given to Nanavati Commission, but the state government was opposing it tooth and nail.” 
    Sharma’s CD contained records on all mobile phone calls in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, the worst day of the post-Godhra riots. These included calls made by politicians and rioters, giving crucial evidence of who they had called and whether they were present at riot spots when the city was burning. 
    “My husband encouraged me to take up the challenging job of analyzing the call data. He also wanted to engage me in meaningful work because cancer treatment had restricted my movements. As my husband was also representing Rubabuddin Sheikh, Sohrabuddin’s brother and Tulsiram’s mother Narmada Bai in court, I had lots of documents readily available. When I analyzed riot call details, it was appreciated by the SIT and cognizance was taken of it in the Naroda Patia case. But when I tried to get call details in the fake encounter cases, all agencies particularly from the state, denied help.” 
    She then studied the chargesheet filed by CID officials, took all the annexed details of phone calls in Excel sheets and found specific acts of omission and commission by the investigators to protect the accused. “Our experience shows that meticulous work in the field of law and investigation linked with grassroots struggle can revive secular democratic forces. My faith in the law of the land is being restored.”