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Zahira missing, search squad in place Community hails verdict

Ahmedabad, March 8: Minutes after the Supreme Court sentenced Zahira Sheikh, Vadodara police commissioner Deepak Swaroop formed a special crime branch team to trace the “self-condemned liar” who he claimed has gone underground.

While the police readied to “find out where she is”, her own community hailed the one-year sentence as justice delayed but not denied.

Muslim leaders in Vadodara, home to the riot-ravaged Best Bakery, claimed Zahira is in Mumbai, but Swaroop said she is “not traceable”. He said the police today searched the bakery and a rented accommodation in a Hindu locality where Zahira used to stay with her mother and brother. Their formers neighbours said they had not seen Zahira for the last five months.

Zahira’s advocate Atul Mistry also claimed he was not in touch with her for five months and has no idea where she is.

Swaroop said his team would contact the police in Mumbai and also Uttar Pradesh, as the Sheikh family is from the state’s eastern parts.

Social activist Raeeskhan Pathan, of the organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace, expressed surprise that the police do not know where Zahira is. “She has been given police protection,” he said. “How is it that the Vadodara police commissioner is not aware of her whereabouts'”

Swaroop, however, claimed that Vadodara police had not given her protection. “I do not know who has provided her protection,” he said.

As news of the verdict spread, hardly anyone in Zahira’s community sympathised with the “self-condemned liar”, as the court-appointed committee had called her.

Zuber Gopalani, a minority leader, said “justice was delayed but not denied”. The entire community wanted Zahira to be punished for her flip-flops, he added.

Indications are Zahira could face more trouble. The Jan Sangharsh Manch, an Ahmedabad NGO which represents riot victims, has decided to move the Nanavati-Shah Commission, which is probing the riots, to “prosecute her for lying” before it.

While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which had arranged a news meet where Zahira had done one of her somersaults, chose not to react, government counsel Arvind Pandya said the verdict would have serious ramifications. “One fallout will be police raj,” he said, as no one will dare tell the truth.

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