The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Not guilty, but still in hiding

Vadodara, July 10: Mahendra V. Jadhav, one of the 21 accused let off in the Best Bakery case, watches every word he says.

“Everybody is talking about them (the 14 charred in the Bakery burning) but we have been left alone to face the tremendous adversity,” he mumbles, his sister nearby following every motion of his lips.

Jadhav is perhaps the only one of the 21 acquitted who has come forward to talk about his “despair and persecution”. The others are nowhere to be found.

But Jadhav won’t be photographed. “I have lost my reputation and goodwill among my peers. Now, I don’t want people to see my photo and say ‘Oh, he is the one who killed Muslims’.’’ The 20 others acquitted by a trial court for “lack of evidence” appear to have taken shelter in their anonymity, possibly by hiding.

“I was wrongly thrown in jail for one-and-a-half years. Suddenly, I find the National Human Rights Commission is here to reinvestigate the case. Obviously, I will be worried,’’ he says. “Others may not want to create problems for themselves, though none of them is hiding.’’

He may say so but at the mound that the people call Hanuman Tekri, where Best Bakery once stood, it is easy to feel the Hindu residents’ loathing for outsiders.

Some youngsters talking animatedly clam up as soon as they see a stranger. Asked about Sana Baria, one of the acquitted, the boys throw pebbles at a stray dog.

“Who is Sana Baria'” asks Pradip, one of the group. “I have never heard of him before.’’ His friends look away. Finally, someone piped up helpfully: “He lives in that house, the one with the big lock. But I heard he will come back after three years.’’ It is difficult to understand why those proclaimed not guilty are unwilling to announce their innocence to the world.

Faltu mein koi kuch bolega aur phir se baat ka batangad ban jayega (If tongues wag, the whole thing will be blown out of proportion again),’’ says Ganibhai Quereshi, a BJP leader. He is also chairman of the Gujarat Minorities Finance and Development Corporation Ltd.

Almost all the players in the case — including prime witness Zahira Sheikh — are now “not available”. Zahira, whose father’s bakery was burnt, had admitted to lying in court and vowed to seek retrial. An NGO has sheltered her somewhere in Mumbai.

Even additional district and sessions judge, H.U. Mahida, who acquitted the 21, is on long leave. He went on leave a day after pronouncing the verdict.

An advocate, who claimed to know the judge well, said: “Everyone has been adversely affected by the case; most of them, for no fault of theirs. It has actually been the worst bakery case.’’

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