The Desk

SCO Shorts: Zakia Jafri and the 2002 Gujarat Riots

The SC decision upholding the ‘clean chit’ given to the accused in the 2002 Gujarat Riots, ends Mrs. Zakia Jafri’s long legal battle.

On June 24th 2022, the SC delivered a Judgment in the protest petition filed by Mrs. Zakia Jafri against the finding of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) looking into the 2002 Gujarat Riots. A 3-Judge Bench consisting of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar, upheld the finding of the SIT and the clean chit they issued to the 63 persons accused in the 2022 riots.

Background

In February 2002, during the Gujarat Riots, 69 people hiding in Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad were attacked and killed. Former Congress MP Mr. Ehsan Jafri was among the deceased. In June 2002, Mr. Ehsan Jafri’s wife Mrs. Zakia Jafri filed a police complaint against 63 persons including then Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. She accused them of ‘active connivance and brutality’ and inaction, as the Gulberg Society massacre unfolded.

After inaction from the police, she approached the Gujarat High Court seeking that the FIR be considered seriously, and an investigation into the conspiracy behind the 2002 pogrom be launched. The Gujarat HC dismissed the petition in 2007, leading Mrs. Jafri to approach the Supreme Court.

At the Supreme Court (Round 1)

In March 2008, the SC constituted a Special Investigation Committee (SIT) to re-investigate the 2002 riots while considering a petition filed by the National Human Rights Commission. On April 27th 2009, a 2-Judge Bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and A.K. Ganguly directed the SIT to include Mrs. Jafri’s complaint.

On February 8th 2012, the SIT submitted its report—it granted the accused a ‘clean chit’ without hearing Mrs. Jafri. On August 2nd 2012, Mrs. Jafri filed a protest petition, challenging the SIT’s findings. The SC directed the Magistrate Court to review the SIT’s report and Mrs. Jafri’s protest petition.

2013-2018: Protest Petition Dismissed Repeatedly

On December 26th 2013, the Magistrate Court upheld the SIT’s report and rejected the protest petition.

Arguing that the Magistrate did not look into the ‘substantial merits’ of her case, Mrs. Jafri appealed to the Gujarat HC in March 2014. She pointed out that her petition goes beyond an investigation of the Gulberg Society massacre—she was demanding an investigation into the larger conspiracy in the many instances of violence during the 2002 Gujarat Riots.

On October 5th 2017, the Gujarat HC rejected the appeal. It found no fault in the SIT’s report. However, it permitted Mrs. Jafri to demand further investigation at either the Magistrate’s Court, the High Court’s division bench, or the Supreme Court.

At the Supreme Court (Round 2)

On September 12th 2018, Mrs. Jafri filed a Special Leave Petition at the SC. She made three key submissions:

  1. The Magistrate Court dismissed the protest petition without considering the merits of the case. The Magistrate Court only perused the SIT’s narration of events based on their own investigation. The evidence pointing to a larger conspiracy was not examined.
  2. The Gujarat HC erroneously upheld the Magistrate Court’s Order. The larger conspiracy of the 2002 Gujarat Riots need to be further investigated by the Supreme Court.

Arguments Presented Before the SC

Mrs. Jafri, joined by Ms. Teesta Setalvad, activist and secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, argued that:

  1. The SIT was biased and did not follow procedure established by law.
  2. The SIT ignored crucial evidence which showed that the police were complicit in the violence.
  3. That the SIT failed to find proof of conspiracy because it did not review key evidence.

The SIT and the State of Gujarat argued that:

  1. Mrs. Jafri’s arguments before each Court had been different. The inconsistency in submissions showed suppression of documents and deliberate omission of evidence.
  2. The SIT had completed its investigation thoroughly. The conclusions of the SIT were corroborated by three other judicial investigations.
  3. Ms. Teesta Setalvad has ‘sinister motives’, and had overtaken Mrs. Jafri’s case. Ms. Setalvad was exploiting the opportunity to endlessly push the case.
  4. Ms. Setalvad had misappropriated funds collected for the victims of the riots, showing unreliable character and questionable conduct.

What did the Court Decide?

The Court dismissed Mrs. Jafri’s protest petition once again. Justices Khanwilkar, Maheshwari and Ravikumar found that the SIT had conducted the investigation thoroughly, considering all key evidence and allegations. The Court further held that dereliction of duty on the State administration’s part could not be considered conspiracy—there was no evidence of meeting of minds among the accused.

Curiously, the Court discussed co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad at length. The Court criticised her for attempting to ‘keep the pot boiling’ by filing repeated petitions in the case and capitalising on Mrs. Jafri’s personal loss. The Court said the protest petition undermines the good work of investigators entrusted by the Court itself. The Judgment noted that it was Ms. Setalvad, and not the accused, who deserved to be on the stand.

What Happened Next?

Within 24 hours of the Judgment, the Gujarat Government filed an FIR against Ms. Teesta Setalvad, Former IPS Officer R.B. Sreekumar, and dismissed IPS Officer Sanjiv Bhat for criminal conspiracy. Ms. Setalvad and Mr. Sreekumar were arrested, while Mr. Bhat has been in prison for unrelated offences. The FIR relied heavily on the Judgment, where the Bench stated that Ms. Setalvad had ‘ulterior motives’ to ‘keep the pot boiling’ in the case.

Shocked by the arrests and the contents of the FIRs, a group of 300 comprising former judges, lawyers, activists and others have written to the Chief Justice of India. They seek suo moto clarification from the Court, that the Judgment was ‘not intended to have any adverse consequences’.

Bottom Line

The Judgment marks the end of Mrs. Zakia Jafri’s arduous legal battle. With this decision, the SC has upheld the ‘clean chit’ given to the 63 accused in the 2002 Gujarat Riots, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.