228 given up for dead - Gujarat riot toll up after 7-year wait for the missing

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 1.03.09
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Ahmedabad, Feb. 28: The state may presume what it wants but Rupa Mody and husband Dara aren’t willing to accept that their son Azhar, missing since the Godhra riots, is dead.

On the seventh anniversary of the riots, the Gujarat government today officially revised the toll from 952 to 1,180, declaring 228 missing people “presumed to be dead”.

“I’m still waiting for my son. He will return some day. As long as I’m alive, I will continue to wait for him, even if, as per government procedures, he is presumed dead, which I don’t believe,” Rupa said.

She recounted how her son, then 13, had got separated from her as she and other residents of Gulbarg Society rushed into former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri’s house when the rioters struck.

Jafri was subsequently burnt alive, along with 38 others, and although Rupa and her husband managed to escape, they lost Azhar in the melee. Their story inspired Rahul Dholakia’s film Parzania, but the Narendra Modi regime barred its screening in Gujarat on the ground that it could stoke communal disharmony.

For missing persons to be declared presumed dead, a stipulated period of seven years has to lapse. After that, their families are given a compensation of Rs 5 lakh — Rs 3.5 lakh from the Centre and Rs 1.5 lakh from the state.

Advocate Mukul Sinha, who had cross-examined some witnesses, said those missing should not be “presumed dead” but “presumed murdered” because they were lost during the riots.

“So, the bigger question is the criminal investigation, not just the compensation,” he said.

A total of 413 people had gone missing across the state during the riots that erupted after the Godhra train burning on February 27, 2002. About 185 have been found and the remainder, of whom there is no trace, are now presumed dead.

Citizens for Justice and Peace, an NGO representing riot victims, had submitted a list of missing persons to the Supreme Court to support its claim that 71 people were killed in the Gulbarg Society massacre, and not 39 as officially stated.

Jafri’s son Tanvir said he felt “optimistic”, now that the Supreme Court-appointed special investigating team was taking a fresh look at the riot cases.

Citing the arrest of a police officer and the summons to junior minister Maya Kodnani and Modi loyalist Jaideep Patel, Tanvir hoped “justice will be done”.

“Just as K.G. Erda, the Valsad deputy superintendent of police arrested by the SIT, has told investigators that he did not get support from higher-ups when he was posted at Meghaninagar police station, we expect more people to disclose the names of other accused,” he said.

Minority leader Hanif Lakdawala said “anguish and anger” had to some extent been replaced by “hope for justice” since the SIT came in.

“But we are still wondering why the SIT allowed Maya Kodnani and Jaideep Patel to escape and go into hiding. They should have been arrested long back,” he said.