Ahmedabad, Sept. 19: New claims added a fresh twist to the Best Bakery case as the sister-in-law of the main witness said the bakery was attacked because her husband had married a Hindu, earning the majority community’s wrath.
Yasmin Sheikh, sister-in-law of Zahira Sheikh who had told a Mumbai news conference that she was threatened into silence, has come back to Vadodara where she claims she “feels safe”.
Yasmin left her husband Nafitulla Sheikh after his second marriage to Kailash Vasava and went to live with her parents. She now claims she was in Vadodara when 14 people were burnt alive at the bakery in March last year and wants to be a witness.
Yasmin’s sudden appearance yesterday, just a day before Gujarat chief secretary P.K. Lahiri and director-general of police K. Chakravarthy were to appear before the Supreme Court, is being seen as yet another trick by local BJP leaders who want to use her against Zahira.
The main witness to the massacre had told reporters in Mumbai that she was forced to lie in court by BJP MLA Madhu Srivastava. Her refusal to testify led to the acquittal of all the accused, though the state government later filed an appeal against the trial court’s decision.
Mother of a two-year-old daughter, Yasmin is busy renovating the bakery and eight labourers have been hired for the job. However, her decision to renovate the bakery has forced Vadodara police commissioner Sudhir Sinha to seek legal opinion.
Sources said some BJP leaders have given money to Yasmin to renovate the bakery and want her to be a witness, though she was not in Vadodara at the time of the incident. Yasmin claims she has raised the money from her relatives.
If Yasmin’s claim has fuelled speculation of ulterior motif, the Supreme Court’s directive to the Gujarat government today to amend the appeal filed in the high court against the Best Bakery acquittals has not pleased everybody.
“What we wanted was a retrial by an independent agency outside the state. The atmosphere in Gujarat is still not very conducive for witnesses. They feel threatened,” M.H. Johar, a social activist said, adding that if the trial is conducted outside the state, many witnesses would feel comfortable to depose.
The other view is that court proceedings in Gujarat have come under the apex court’s scanner, which will now monitor every riot-related case. This will have a positive impact as the lower judiciary and the bureaucracy will be under pressure to act.