April 19: The Gujarat government confronted a fresh crisis of credibility on the eve of the general elections with the CBI charging policemen as senior as a deputy superintendent, two doctors and several BJP and VHP activists in a grisly riot case.
As many as 20 people have been charged in the infamous Bilkis case within a week of the Supreme Court transferring the Best Bakery case out of Gujarat in a stinging indictment of the state government.
A pregnant Bilkis Yakub Rasool was gangraped and 14 of her relatives, including her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, were burnt to death by a mob in the post-Godhra riots of 2002. Among the attackers were people in the neighbourhood she had known since she was a child.
The Supreme Court had directed the CBI to investigate the case afresh after Gujarat police closed it citing lack of evidence.
The case had come to symbolise the tragedy in Gujarat because it not only underscored how long-lasting social ties were torn apart but also brought under the law’s scanner the alleged complicity of the government machinery.
Gujarat police had closed the case in such haste that the investigators could not determine even the exact number of casualties. A turning point came when the CBI decided to dig up a grave.
Several packets of salt were found buried with the bodies. In the chargesheet, the CBI said it has traced a witness who had been told by local police to get 60 kg of salt to ensure early decomposition of the bodies.
Among those charged are the then Dahod deputy superintendent of police R.S. Bhagora, circle inspector R.M. Balu, sub-inspector B.R. Patel, constable S.K. Gotri, and doctors Arun Kumar Ramkrishna Prasad and wife Sangeeta. The couple had performed the post-mortem on the dead and has been accused of suppressing facts.
Sub-inspector I.A. Syed and head constable Narpatsinh Patel, previously arrested for tampering with evidence, were also charged. The CBI will require the state’s permission to take them into custody.
The CBI took over the case in December 2003, registered a case in January and followed up with 12 arrests, including Dahod district VHP president Shailesh Bhatt (who has been identified by Bilkis as the murderer of her daughter) and Ramesh Chandana, the personal secretary to former food and civil supplies deputy minister Jasvantsinh Bhabhor, a BJP MLA.
The arrested include VHP-BJP workers Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Naresh Maurya, Pradeep Maurya, Lal Vakil, Baku Bhai, Kesar Bhai, Raju Soni, Nitesh Bhatt and Lala Bhai — all of whom have been chargesheeted.
The BJP and the state government refused to comment amid a perception that if the indictments pave the way for a polarisation as witnessed during the last Assembly polls, the party stands to gain.