Vadodara, July 8: “Why were they quiet all this while' Did they have to wait for Zahira to tell them that Muslim riot victims were being denied justice'” asked Hasan Nurulbhai, a Vadodara resident, on a day the National Human Rights Commission arrived to probe the Best Bakery acquittals.
Yesterday, Zahira Sheikh, the main witness, revealed how she was forced to turn hostile in court, leading to the acquittal of all 21 accused of killing 14 people in the bakery on March 1 last year.
“What do you want us to say'” Zahira’s neighbour in Ekta Nagar asked, clearly not expecting anything out of the NHRC probe. “It is difficult to trust anyone these days.”
A man who gave his name only as Zakir said: “Muslims in Gujarat and throughout the country were waiting for the verdict in the bakery case. We were very disappointed, especially when Zahira turned hostile. But now that she says she is telling the truth, why can’t there be a retrial' That is not too much to ask for, is it'’’
But the NHRC would not promise that it would ask for one. After a day of collecting documents from the police commissioner’s office, the district sessions court and sundry organisations, the commission’s team was non-committal about its future course. “We cannot say if we will ask the government to reopen the case,” said Ajit Bharioke, one of the members. The NHRC chairman, A.S. Anand, had described the June 27 acquittals as a “miscarriage of justice”.
A clutch of organisations that have little relevance to the case met the NHRC team — the Vadodara Janadhikar Samiti, fighting to uphold “the rule of law and sanctity of the courts”; the Citizens for Justice and Peace, protesting the absence of rule of law; the Gujarat Janhit Rakshak Samiti, fighting for “Gujarat’s pride to be restored” which it believes can be achieved by driving away the NHRC and burying the case; and the Anjuman-e-Bahami Relief Committee, trying hard to prove that Muslims did help Zahira.
Zahira, who said she would seek retrial, will not see the NHRC. “I spoke to them before, nothing happened.”
The families of the accused did meet the commission, only to show their contempt for it. A 250-strong mob of relatives marched from Hanuman Tekri — where the Best Bakery once stood — for the meeting.
Jaswantbhai Gohil, six of whose family members were acquitted, said: “The commission should just go back. All these 21 people were innocent, this is a travesty of justice.”
Accusing NHRC of bias for probing a case that the court had buried, Ishwarsinh Parmar said: “Even Muslims at Hanuman Tekri know that the boys were framed by the police to show that the government was also taking action against Hindus. How can the NHRC make fun of the court’s judgment saying it is incorrect'”
But an advocate closely involved in the case said: “One has just to scratch the surface to get a different version of almost everything that has been said in court.”
In the atmosphere of mistrust that rules Gujarat, where no one seems to have any credibility — not the police, not the courts and not the NHRC — Zahira’s neighbour pleaded for justice.
Affirming that some of the accused were killers, she said: “Kuch to kaide kanoon hote hain desh mein, agar court bhi nyay nahi dega to hum kahan jayenge' (There has to be rule of law in the country. If even the court cannot give us justice, where do we go')