AHMEDABAD: The widow of a person falsely implicated in the Naroda Patiya riots that killed 97 people has decided to sue the Gujarat government for malicious prosecution, the first of its kind in the state, also the first of its kind in riots in India.
Mangalben, widow of Shashikant alias Tinniyo Yuvaraj alias Marathi, has taken the battle right into the heart of the government, blaming the state police for falsely implicating her husband who spent a little over 15 years in prison, and eventually died of a twin heart attack in 2018.
She is demanding a whopping Rs 1.50 crore as compensation.
Her unique move follows reports from the state police that now say Shashikant—who saved over 17 Muslims in the riots—was falsely implicated by Abdul Sattar, an autorickshaw driver and one Shabana Bano, who has now confessed that she gave a false statement because she was paid Rs 10,000. Sattar died a few years ago and cops in Ahmedabad say Bano has left Gujarat.
The cops have now admitted that it was a case of mistaken identity, the real Tinniyo—also a resident of Naroda Patiya—has gone missing and his parents have admitted to the cops that their son was involved in the crime. They have now told the cops that they did not confess the involvement of their son in the riots for fear of arrest.
Shashikant was 23, married with one son when he was arrested and 40 when he died. He spent a little over 15 years in prison. Once out, he first had a brain haemorrhage, followed by a heart attack.
“Two false statements ruined our lives. I lost my husband and my father in law. Both died in total shame. My husband could not walk out in the neighbourhood after he was released. My father in law was paralysed from waist below. We have suffered huge, huge pain and huge, huge losses for nothing. Someone must pay me, my two children and my ageing mother in law for what we have gone through,” says Mangalben, who currently earns a pittance of Rs 3,000 as a part-time tailor.
And then, she broke into a paroxysm of sobbing.
The family’s ancestral kirana store was burnt in the riots, goods looted. Their home, close to Ahmedabad’s main thoroughfare linking Ahmedabad to Naroda Patiya was also totally devastated. Since then, no one has stepped into the shop, or the house. Now, fishmongers have started encroaching on the vacant property.
Shashikant was arrested right after the riots. The cops first arrested him, took him to the police station for an identification parade and then released him. Then came the second arrest and another round of identification. The cops again released Shashikant. And then came another round of arrest, all happening in the span of one and a half months of the riots that took place on 28 February 2002. This time, Sattar said Shashikant was among the riots. What is interesting to note here is that Sattar was there in the first two rounds of identification organised by the cops. And he had then not identified Shashikant. But on the third occasion, he named Shashikant. Worse, even then Shashikant was not arrested. He returned home and narrated the ordeal at the police station to his father, Yuvaraj Gambhir Kadam, a police constable. Kadam called his colleagues and was told his son was actually framed by Sattar mainly because of his interference in Sattar’s family disputes. Sattar who would often beat his wife—he was booked a couple of times by the cops—was often reprimanded by Shashikant. Sattar saw it—claimed the cops—as rank interference by Shashikant in his family affairs. Sattar never liked it and often told Shashikant he will one day square it up by fixing him badly.
Mangalben says to understand the vicious complaint made by Sattar it was important to understand the developments of the day, a black day for the residents of Naroda Patiya. The incident was a part of the riots that engulfed Gujarat following an attack on the Sabarmati Express, in which 57 karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were killed at Godhra on 26 February 2002.
Mangalben, sitting in her dilapidated home continued talking. “Once my husband was painted in black and blue, red and white, he was a rioter, possibly a murderer, a man who hated Muslims. The cops did not say he had even hidden Sattar’s friends, Muslim workers from faraway Bihar and Bengal. My husband was a genial person, he read books, even Tagore.”
In Ahmedabad, Manglaben said she heard trouble was brewing between Hindus and Muslims following the Godhra deaths. Now, Hindu mobs had begun taking revenge on their Muslim neighbours—there were stories of murder, looting and arson. She said the family went out to help her Muslim neighbours, opened her kirana store so that they could pick up rice, wheat, anything and everything. And one day, that very shop was burnt down by a revengeful mob. And then Shashikant was arrested, a big blow for his father, himself a constable. The family was instantly turned into outcasts. Mangalben said her husband was seen as a devil with horns in head, green face.
Shashikant’s mother, now 79, said her son often walked through streets full of burned-out shops, abandoned homes, smouldering rickshaws and broken glass, offering food and water to people, mostly Muslims. “Yet, his shop—in running since 1991—was burnt, house looted. We left the state and went to a friend’s home in Bhopal. We did not run away. We submitted to the court that we left only because the cops told us to leave because the situation was dangerous and that we should leave. We were involved in rehabilitation work, we were not resigned or indifferent to the horror around us. Once the cops insisted we leave, we took the train to Maharashtra and sought refuge in a (non-descript) village.”
And then, Mangalben said all hell broke loose. The newspapers said one of the masterminds of Naroda Patiya, Shashikant, had run away, the matter reached right up to the Supreme Court.
Shashikant’s father could not handle the humiliation. The village he was staying with his family also turned aggressive, many openly started taunting the family. The family immediately returned to Ahmedabad and Shashikant walked into the police station close to Naroda Patiya and surrendered himself. Instantly, television channels played breaking headlines: Shashikant arrested from his hideout by Ahmedabad Police. “The world was crumbling around us, it seemed everyone, everyone was openly calling my son a traitor and was happy he was arrested by the police,” said Shashikant’s mother. She wore a tattered, cotton saree. She said she has only four of them and keeps rotating them 365 days of the year.
The family left Naroda Patiya and shifted to another place some 20 miles away. It was too dangerous to stay in Naroda Patiya.
At the office, some would console Shashikant’s father, some would ridicule him, rest avoided him. His very own colleagues, it was obvious to Kadam, did not bother about him and his family. Once they regularly shared food, now they were only exchanging glances. And his son was among those blamed and arrested for being allegedly involved in the riots. “My husband could not take it anymore. One day he collapsed at home, it was a major cerebral stroke, his body was paralysed from the waist below. There were more troubles for the family. It seemed the skies were breaking on us and everyone around us was laughing.”
Repeated petitions to the cops and the courts failed. They were told to offer big monies to the cops, lawyers and even officials working in the courts so that Shashikant could be released but the family refused. Eventually, Shashikant got bail around 2005. But in less than a year, he was back in the jail because Sattar lodged a complaint with the cops, saying he had life threats from Shashikant. And then, Shashikant’s bail was cancelled and he was sent to Ahmedabad Central Jail. “We pleaded with the cops that there were no such threats from Shashikant and that my son had not even gone out of the house. We offered the cops our handsets to check the call records. But it did not work. A neighbour who went to the cops to say Shashikant had stayed at home and did not venture out during his bail term also had a complaint registered against him by Sattar. That was the last I saw Shashikant. The cops took him away.”
The family has not been able to reclaim their shop and home, now valued at a little over Rs 50 lakh.
Shashikant’s son, Praful Shashikant Kadam, said his father wanted to sell the shop and home once he was out of jail but could not find any buyer. Now, people are offering rates as low as Rs 400,000 to 500,000 for the properties. “We are living in abject poverty, my father is dead, my grandfather is dead and I have not got a job for reasons unknown. I cannot even sell the property. And this is happening a year after my father was set free by the court. This is no life, this is no justice. I have got tired, really tired telling the world that my father was not complicit in the attacks on Muslims, he had no role in the horrific momentum of violence. He saved Muslims, he saved lives.”
Kadam Junior said he was there at the funeral of his father and wondered how come no one came to help his family, not even in organising the funeral rites.
A bank has just rejected his education loan of Rs 270,000, forcing Kadam Junior to reapply. “There is a blockade in every move of my life. I am the son of a jailbird. No one remembers that my father was set free as an innocent man because there was just no evidence against him.”
Senior police and state government officials in Ahmedabad, strictly speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Shashikant’s case came as a shock to many but could not be discussed because he was a virtual nobody.
“We knew with Shashikant’s death, the family will be in dire crisis. They have lost their shop and home, their bank balance for a lifetime is nearly gone unless they can get cash to hire a lawyer and regain their shop and home from someone who claims he is the new owner. This is very sad,” said a retored government official.
A total of 327 witnesses testified in the case, and prosecutors presented 2,005 documents. Sixty-seven people were charged, of whom 32 were convicted and 29 were acquitted. Six defendants died during the proceedings.
The case will soon be filed in Ahmedabad High Court. It will be interesting to see how a widow takes on the entire state machinery that forgot Shashikant after he was released from jail. Shashikant did not trigger breaking headlines with his release.
He could after his death.
Shantanu Guha Ray is the India Editor of Central European News, a Vienna-based news agency.