The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fear fades at riot hearings

Ahmedabad, Sept. 15: The change is palpable. There is no scare in the air and the bullies are nowhere to be seen. Nor are Modi’s men speaking out of turn.

Three days after the Supreme Court told the Narendra Modi government to quit if it could not protect the “weak”, riot victims appearing before the Godhra inquiry panel are not cowering any more. Not only does no “hooligan” dare to shut them up, they are not even loitering around. And state counsel Arvind Pandya, far from being his usual hostile self, is actually hiding from the cameras.

From August 29, when the G.T. Nanavati Commission was conducting an earlier round of hearings, the wheel has turned full circle. That day, a group of aggressive hoodlums had blocked the widow of former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri —who was burnt to death during the riots — from speaking out.

The mob, flaunting its Sangh parivar credentials, had simply barged into the room, screamed and shouted at her and forced her to leave. Today, no one dared try that at the commission’s Shahibaug office when the next phase of the hearings resumed.

Nor would Pandya face the flashlights or pick fault with the witnesses and their advocates, which he has been untiringly doing since the hearings began. The policemen were parked in large numbers but they were not doing more than their duty of keeping the law.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, Justice Nanavati today assured non-government organisations he would ensure no riot victim is threatened or heckled. In response to a memorandum they presented, he said he would soon issue a “direction” on conducting “hassle-free” hearings.

He also restrained Pandya from making objectionable and “provocative” statements, which riot victims’ counsel Mukul Sharma alleged was aimed at instigating anti-minority outfits.

Sharma pleaded that policemen be shut out of the commission’s premises when hearings were under way as their presence stopped victims from speaking fearlessly. Nanavati agreed but refused to pass an order, saying a verbal directive would suffice.

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