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Digging for truth at riot mass grave

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Forensic experts have started exhuming the bodies of seven persons who were killed and buried at Panivela village near Godhra during the Gujarat communal riots.

The Supreme Court had on December 16 directed the CBI to investigate a case of mass murder and gangrape during the riots after Bilkeesben Yakub Rasool Patel petitioned against local police’s decision to close the case. Bilkeesben was raped but survived.

Fifteen people of the minority community, including women, were killed and gangraped a day after the Godhra train carnage on February 27, 2002. They were fleeing Randhikpur village in Dahod district to a safer destination when they were assaulted.

An 11-member team, led by Central Forensic Science Laboratory director S.R. Singh, began the exhumation last morning. The area where the bodies were buried is adjacent to a local river running through Panivela village. The team had to siphon the water with jet pumps before digging, sources said.

Of the 15 dead, the local police had been able to locate only seven. Their bodies were highly decomposed, with only some bones being recovered, sources said.

The exhumation began following the CBI’s suspicion that the other bodies, too, could be buried there. The sources said some more time would be needed before the bodies are unearthed in their entirety. The forensic experts will subject the bones to DNA tests to establish identity.

The CBI had arrested 12 accused in the case last Wednesday.

Officials of the bureau, trying to collect whatever evidence is left almost two years after the incident, have pointed a finger at the Gujarat police probe.

The sources alleged that the local police made no extra effort to locate the eight missing bodies. Even the autopsy on the other seven was allegedly not conducted in a proper manner.

They further charged that forensic doctors had not taken vaginal swabs of the rape victims, an evidence essential to trace the culprit.

Bilkeesben had said in her petition that the state police filed a closure memo in the case before the Limkheda magistrate on the grounds there were contradictions in the victim’s statement, although the medical report had confirmed the rape.

The sources asked how a closure memo could be filed in the face of the medical confirmation.

Bilkeesben had filed two complaints after the incident, one at Limkheda police station and the other at Godhra police station.

She had named Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Naresh Moria as her rapists, but the police could not trace them. The trio is among the 12 arrested by the CBI.

The apex court had earlier directed Gujarat police to “keep off” the Bilkeesben case when it was contended they were harassing her on one pretext or the other and she was being asked to give statements in the middle of the night.

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