Yesterday was the verdict of the Gulbarg massacre that took place during the 2002 riots in Gujarat. The 2002 riots were one of the worst riots which ever took place in Gujarat, a state which is prone to communal riots. Before 2002, the worst riots in Gujarat’s history took place in 1969 during the rule of Hitendra Desai, a Congress chief minister. The riots saw the death of over 660 people (official number) whereas, the unofficial number is pegged at over 2000, most of which were Muslims.
I don’t want to get into how fair/unfair the verdict is. I am no legal expert.
But I will take it upon myself to correct the international media when they write about my beloved Gujarat. I was going through this New York Times piece on the verdict.
I want to show how an international publication either misrepresents the facts, or chooses to completely ignore stating them.
Ellen Barry, South Asia bureau chief of NYTimes, in her article writes
A judge in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, acquitted 36 people for lack of evidence, including a police inspector and a midranking official in the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Mr. Modi.
Agreed. I like how she describes Ahmedabad as Gujarat’s largest city, but misses out on the fact that it was no ordinary judge. He was a special judge appointed for the special court.
Rest of the article is in poor taste, but I will not let my political inclination cloud my dislike for the lack of facts.
However, my blood started boiling when she quoted Teesta Setalvad and described her as “an activist who has spearheaded a campaign to prosecute Gujarat officials”. She very conveniently forgot to give the disclaimer that Setalvad is accused by the residents of the Gulbarg society of embezzling donation money they collected for building a museum. Although the Supreme Court has said Setalvad and her husband should not be arrested, they have been told to provide all documents needed.
Barry could have given this little disclaimer to give the international readers a fair chance at getting a balanced view.
Moving along, Barry then describes how the 2002 riots started.
The Gujarat riots began on a February morning, when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was surrounded by a mob of Muslims and caught fire at a train platform in Godhra. An investigation later concluded that the fire had been accidental, but it was widely blamed on Muslims. The remains of 59 people burned to death on the train were displayed in Ahmedabad, stoking anti-Muslim fury.
Pay attention to the point where Barry claims the train carrying Hindu pilgrims “caught fire”. To substantiate this, Barry links back to another NYT piece, this time from 2002 itself. And oddly, this piece does not even contain the word “caught”. All it says is the train was “set on fire” and multiple occasions:
An angry Muslim mob Wednesday morning set fire to a train loaded with Hindu activists………..some in the mob, who had been stoning the coaches, set fire to the train, probably with gasoline from a nearby pump….”
So Barry has no basis of saying that the train “caught fire” and in fact her own provided links show a contrarian view. Further, note how Barry says:
An investigation later concluded that the fire had been accidental, but it was widely blamed on Muslims
Again Ellen Barry is playing with facts. A Judicial Commission set up to enquire into the incident had found that it was indeed set on fire, and courts had sentenced several people based on this. But Barry was probably referring to the report by the second commission set up, the Bannerjee Committee, which was set up by UPA 1, and which contradicted the first report. Barry chose deliberately to hide the fact that courts had subsequently thrown out the Bannerjee Commission report, even restraining the Centre from tabling the committee report in Parliament or taking any further action on it. How convenient of Barry.
If Barry is to be believed that the train “caught fire”, then Farooq Mohammad Bhana, who’s arrested under charges of conspiracy to set the train on fire must be innocent.
This is how Times of India describes Bhana’s alleged involvement:
ATS officials said Bhana, who was on the run for 14 years, was staying in the slums of Andheri (east) in Mumbai under the fake identity of Mohammed Umar for the last seven years. He even did some petty work on contractual basis at the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation. “We have seized some forged identity documents from him,” said an ATS official.
In 2002, Bhana was an independent councillor in the Godhra municipality, representing Polan Bazar ward. His arrest is considered a prized catch as investigators say he was involved in the alleged train burning conspiracy “right from the beginning till the end.”
J K Bhatt, inspector general of police, ATS, said, “We suspect that Bhana could have visited Pakistan while being on the run. He was staying in Mumbai for the last seven years. We are probing whether he had procured a fake passport.” He was remanded in eight-day SIT custody.
Elaborating on Bhana’s role in the train carnage, ATS officials said that he was present at a meeting in Aman Guest House where the conspiracy to burn the train was hatched on February 26, 2002. “Bhana had allegedly instructed other conspirators about the attack plan and directed them to store 140 litres of petrol to burn the coach,” said Bhatt.
J R Mothaliya, member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Godhra train carnage, said that Bhana was involved in the “entire planning, right from the beginning till the end”.
Bhana was arrested on May 18, 2016. By the way, NYT did not report on Bhana being arrested. Guess it wasn’t important enough. Guess, Barry has finally adopted Indian and Indian media when it comes to reporting news.
So called South Asia bureau chief for NYT, Ellen Barry, welcome to India. We love you