On Friday, 24 June 2022, the Supreme Court of India upheld the SIT’s clean chit to the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The SC was hearing a plea filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed during the violence at Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad on 28 February 2002, challenging the clean chit given by the SIT to PM Modi and 62 others for their alleged role in the violence.
While delivering its verdict, the apex court said that the “appeal is devoid of merits”. A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar refused to order a probe into allegations of a “larger conspiracy” behind the Gujarat riots.
The apex court, with its ruling, has brought the curtains down for a propaganda industry that relied on churning out sensational conspiracy theories to keep the pot boiling about the Godhra train burning incident and the riots that erupted in its wake. With its dismissal of Zakia Jafri’s plea, the court has effectively undermined the efforts of the propagandists who sought to bolster their narrative that the Gujarat riots were a planned conspiracy carried out under the aegis of the highest state political leadership.
While the top court’s verdict gave a clean chit to PM Modi in the 2002 Gujarat riots, it would be foolish to assume that the judgment would deter the propagandists from weaving fictional tales about the tragedy. It is, therefore, germane to bust the myths that were propped up by the
Nevertheless, it is important to recount the myths perpetuated by the propagandists who build a career out of peddling misinformation, hearsay, hyperbole and fake news regarding the Godhra train burning incident and the consequent riots.
Here are some of the popular myths that were bandied around after the fateful day when 59 Hindus, including women and children, were incinerated in a train bogey in Godhra, which touched off an ugly spate of riots across the state.
Myth 1: Pregnant Kausar Bano was raped and her fetus was pulled out of her womb and flung into the fire
In the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident that triggered widespread violence across Gujarat, many media outlets at that time ran a story that a pregnant Muslim woman was raped by a Hindu mob, her pregnant belly slit open and her foetus flung into the fire. Some versions also included that the above act was done with a sword.
Most reports cited Saira Bano, Kausar Bano’s sister-in-law who claimed “What they did to my sister-in-law’s sister Kausar Bano was horrific and heinous. She was nine months pregnant. They cut open her belly, took out her foetus with a sword and threw it into a blazing fire. Then they burnt her as well.” Some versions of the story narrated horrific versions of the fate of the foetus. In other versions, the foetus was slaughtered with the sword, while in some, the foetus was swung on the point of the sword and then thrown into a fire.
However, the postmortem of Kausar Bano told a different story.
A 2010 report states that the doctor who conducted a post-mortem on Kauser found the foetus intact. Dr J S Kanoria, who had conducted the autopsy on 2nd March 2002 presented supporting documents to the special court and said that the foetus was intact in the woman’s womb. The foetus weighed 2,500 gms and was 45 cms long.
Further, during the postmortem and cross-examination of the witness, it had come to light that Kausar Bano died of suffocation, fear and shock and her body bore no external or internal injuries. As per reports, during his deposition, Kanoria stated that Bano’s body bore no internal or external injury; moreover, there was no sword injury on her body. Dr Kanoria was working at the government civil hospital during the riots and had given a statement that Kausar Bano’s foetus was removed after the post-mortem. The post-mortem was conducted on 1st March 2002.
Myth no. 2: A stove spill caused the fire inside the Sabarmati express
Another popular myth that was widely shared by propagandists and even media outlets is the “accidental fire” theory that said the Godhra train burning was an incidental fire caused from within the bogey and not by a bloodthirsty mob of Islamists, who harboured deep antagonism for the passengers of the Sabarmati express since they had been to Ayodhya for karseva of the Ram Temple to be built at its original place.
However, the Nanavati-Mehta commission, a commission of inquiry appointed by the government of Gujarat to probe the Godhra train burning incident of 27 February 2002, squarely rejected the claims that fire happened inside the compartment after some inflammable liquid from a stove spilt after some karsevak tried to cook a meal in the compartment. The Commission report said, “The witness has denied that such fire could have taken place in the coach as a result of inflammable liquid in a vessel getting spilt in the coach. This witness has produced photographs taken by his office at the time of examination of that coach.”
Further, Mukesh Joshi, Scientific Officer at FSL, had gone to Godhra thrice in 2002 and he had observed, “n hit marks on the outer side of coach S/6 caused by stones hitting the coach. There were burn marks also on the outer side of coaches S/6 and S/7.”
The Nanavati-Mehta Commission report then talked about the statements of various eyewitnesses. Multiple eyewitnesses narrated how the mob started pelting stones from the left side of the compartment as the train started to move away from the platform. “Sajjanlal Raniwal has stated that as soon as the train had moved out of the platform, a mob standing on the left-hand side had started throwing stones at it and for that reason, he was required to close the door and shutters of the windows of their compartment. If really that had not happened, there was no other reason for Sajjanlal to say so. He would not have closed the windows unless he was compelled by the circumstances to do so.”
“The passengers have also said that as the persons on the left-hand side of the train had started throwing stones at the train, they were required to close the windows of their coach. Some of the witnesses have stated that stones which were thrown on the train had a broken glass of one or two windows and therefore, the passengers in the coach were required to close the tin/metal shutters of the windows on that side. Hariprasad has also clearly stated that right from the time the train had moved out of the station, pelting of stones on the train had started and because of that passengers had closed the windows of their coach. There is no reason to doubt this part of their evidence. Hariprasad and other witnesses would not have said so unless it was true as they had nothing to gain by saying something that which was not correct,” the commission further said.
Myth no.3: Short circuit caused a fire inside the train
Another conspiracy theory about the fire that was floated by Mukul Sinha’s Jan Sangharsh Manch was ‘short circuit’. The Nanavati-Mehta Commission had this to say about the claims: “A short circuit is another probability canvassed by the Jan Sangharsh Manch. No evidence has been led and no material has been produced before the Commission to show the possibility of a short circuit has occurred in the coach. The reason given in support of this possibility is that there was smoke in the coach at first and flames were seen after some time. Not a single passenger of coach S/6 examined by the Commission was asked if anything like short-circuit had happened in the coach.”
Further, the report said, “During the inspection by the Commission in presence of advocates appearing for the parties it was noticed that the electric wires were in the upper parts of the coach. If there was a fire because of a short circuit the passengers who were near that place would have immediately come to know about it. In that case, the passengers who were sitting on the lower seats would not have climbed up on the upper berths to protect themselves. On the contrary, those who were sitting on the upper berths would have immediately come down for saving themselves from fire and electric shock. The passengers would have left the coach immediately through all the four doors and so many persons would not have lost their lives.”
While motivated individuals tried to paint the Godhra train burning incident as an accidental fire from within the bogey, the Justice Nanavati-Mehta Committee report [pdf] talked about what actually conspired in Godhra that led to the deaths of 59 Hindus. Right after the Godhra platform and boundary, there is a road and a locality named ‘Signal Falia’. “It extends up to the culvert and goes further towards A cabin. It is a locality mainly inhabited by Ghanchi Muslims,” the report mentions. When the train arrived, a lot of unauthorised vendors, mainly Ghanchi Muslims, would come on the platform and sell snacks, cold drinks, bidis, etc.
The report further states that the train arrived at the platform at 7:43 AM as it was running about 5 hours late and there was a halt of about 5 minutes. In its evidence portion, the report cites media reports from 28th February 2002, the day after the carnage, where leading mainstream media had reported that a mob has set Hindus on fire. They mentioned how Hindus were returning from karseva and how the mob set the train coaches on fire with petrol.
The Times of India had mentioned how the train was stopped at Signal Falia where someone had pulled the chain and after initial pelting of stones on coach S6 and S7, windows were broken and petrol bombs were thrown inside. The Indian Express, too, carried eyewitness statements on how the mob had set the coach ablaze after pelting stones.
Myth no. 4: Karsevaks attempted to abduct a Muslim girl that goaded the mob into burning the train
Yet another fictional tale talks about a “scuffle” following which ‘karsevaks’ tried to abduct a Muslim girl, raising the hackles of the Muslim mob and eventually leading them into doing what occurred at Godhra. However, the Nanavati-Mehta commission rejected the hypothesis, stating that the claims of karsevaks abducting a Muslim girl were far-fetched and did not belong to the realm of reality.
“From the evidence of all these witnesses and other material on record it becomes clear that except overcrowding in the train and occasional raising of slogans inside the train and on platforms of the intervening stations, the Ramsevaks had not done anything and no incident had happened earlier which could have led to the incident which later on happened at Godhra,” the commission concluded on the rumours of a scuffle that triggered the train burning.
Regarding the ‘attempted’ abduction of a Muslim woman following the “scuffle”, the Commission comes to the conclusion that the version given by the lady did not appear to be true. “If they had really gone to the station for going to Vadodara, they would have boarded the Sabarmati Express train as it would have taken them to Vadodara earlier, but they had not done so. The alleged attempt to abduct her was made while they were near the bookstall. That would mean that they were almost in the middle of the covered portion of the platform and very close to the offices of the railway staff,” the commission observed.
“The evidence discloses that there were many persons on the platform. Apart from passengers, many Muslim vendors were there. The railway staff was present in their offices. Some policemen were also present. If she had raised shouts to save her then they would have been heard at least by some persons who were near about but not a single vendor or anyone else has come forward to support her version,” the commission noted while debunking the testimony of the Muslim woman.
“According to her evidence, they had then gone inside the office of the booking clerk. They did not inform anyone there about what had happened. When inside that office, they had no reason to be afraid of anything thereafter and return immediately to their relative’s place instead of waiting for the Memu train which was about to arrive. Her explanation that she was much frightened and had giddiness and, therefore, they had decided not to go back to Vadodara on that day, does not appear to be true,” the Nanavati Mehta Commission report stated.
Myth no.5: Tainted former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt met CM Narendra Modi at his residence on 27 February 2002
Another popular myth that is widely shared among liberal circles is that former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt met with CM Narendra Modi in the latter’s residence on 27 February 2022. This meeting is especially highlighted to implicate PM Modi for being complicit in the carnage that followed in the wake of the Godhra train burning incident.
However, the Nanavati-Mehta commission concluded that the former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who is currently serving life imprisonment in a custodial death case, had lied and made up stories about him attending a meeting at the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s residence on February 27, 2002.
Bhatt, who became a big face of the anti-Modi lobby, alleged in 2011 that during the 2002 post-Godhra riots, the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi had called a meeting at his residence on 27 February 2002 to “let Hindus vent out their anger against Muslims so that repeat of Godhra-like incident never happens in the state”.
Bhatt, in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, had claimed that this meeting took place following the Sabarmati Express burning incident in which 59 Ayodhya Kar Sevaks had died.
At the time of the alleged meeting, Bhatt was the deputy commissioner of the state intelligence bureau. He further stated in the affidavit that the meeting was attended by eight top police officers. Bhatt also alleged that the SIT constituted to probe the riots was trying to protect the Gujarat government.
The Nanavati-Mehta commission report has, however, rubbished Bhatt’s allegations saying that he used a false document, a fax message, to support his presence at the meeting. “On consideration of the evidence, it clearly appears that Bhatt is not telling the truth with regards to what happened in the meeting held on February 27, 2002, at the CM’s residence. Claims made by him of being present in the meeting appear to be false,” stated the second part of the report of the ‘Commission of Inquiry’ by Justice G T Nanavati and Justice Akshay Mehta.
The report adds that Bhatt’s claims about chief minister Modi’s statements were a story made up by him and “deserve to be discarded as false.”
The commission stated that the copy of the fax message, which Bhatt had used to claim he was present in the February 27, 2002 meeting with the then Gujarat CM Modi, was, in fact, sent on March 2, 2002, by one PP Upadhyay, about an incident in Pandarva, Panchmahal.