The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zahira behind veil of silence

Ahmedabad, May 4: She came covered in a black burqa and left with the truth still shrouded in a veil. At her appearance before the Nanavati-Shah Commission today, Best Bakery witness Zahira Sheikh just refused to answer questions.

Advocate Mukul Sinha tried his best, even prising out proof of a contradiction in an earlier statement by the young woman. But as she kept stonewalling most of his questions, he gave up, abruptly ending the cross-examination.

All Zahira would do was repeat her old line that her signatures on the affidavit asking for a retrial of the case outside Gujarat were genuine, but that she was unaware of what was written on the document.

When Sinha asked if she knew Mumbai-based rights activist Teesta Setalvad before March 1, 2001 ' the day the bakery in Vadodara was torched by a mob, killing 14 people ' Zahira said: 'I do not want to answer this question.'

She unwittingly seemed to answer another question, however, when K.G. Shah asked her to read out her affidavit. She did it perfectly, despite having told the Mumbai court retrying the case that she could not read Gujarati ' a contradiction that Sinha was quick to point out.

Zahira claimed that a man called Iqbal Ansari, with whom she had stayed with her family for about a month after the bakery attack, had made her sign a few papers with something written on them in Gujarati and English.

'She was yet to recover from the shock of her younger sister's death, and her brother was in hospital,' said her advocate Atul Mistry, who maintained his client had had no idea about the papers' contents.

She had signed them only because she was promised government aid if she did. Sinha refused to buy this since it was clear that Zahira could read Gujarati.

As Mistry backed his client's refusal to answer questions, Sinha took a swipe at her 'defiant attitude' and told the commission that if 'she is not willing to answer, there's no point questioning her'. He later said he would request the commission to summon her again and direct her to answer all his questions.

Warrants against kin

The Mumbai special court retrying the Best Bakery case has issued bailable warrants against Zahira's mother Shehrunnisa and brother Nasibullah.

The prosecution wants to re-examine Zahira and her family in connection with a video recording of the rescue operation by police at the bakery during the attack. The video contradicts the testimonies of Zahira and some of her relatives.

The family must appear in court by May 6.

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