27th February 2002, a day which shook India. Sabarmati Express which runs between Ahmedabad and Varanasi had made its scheduled stop at Godhra Junction at about 7.45 AM, four hours behind its schedule. As the train started departing from the Godhra Junction platform, someone pulled the emergency brake and the train stopped near the signal. The driver of the train Raghunathrao Jadav and his assistant Mukesh Pachauri both stated that the chain had been pulled multiple times, judging by the instruments in their cabin. The train was surrounded by a mob from all sides. The mob attacked the train and after heavy stone pelting, set four coaches of the train on fire. The forensic lab report which came out later stated that 60 litres of inflammable liquid had been poured into the coach S-6 of the train. Due to this heinous act, 59 innocent people including 27 women and 10 children were burnt to death.
Who were these 59-innocent people who died in Godhra Massacre?
The 59-innocent people were devotees of Lord Rama or kar sevaks who had been to the holy town of Ayodhya to take part in the Purnahuti Maha Yagya at the behest of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). They were returning home after taking part in the Yagya and after getting the blessings of Lord Rama from the holy town of Ayodhya. Unfortunately, they did not return home. The group which consisted of all kinds of people, the young as well as the elderly, women as well as children were brutally murdered. They were burnt alive by a mob of miscreants and the incident by itself acted like a trigger for the now infamous 2002 Gujarat riots.
The initial police investigations pointed out to a planned conspiracy by the mob. In March 2002, the Gujarat government appointed a one-man commission under the retired High Court judge KJ Shah. It was later reconstituted to include retired Supreme Court judge GT Nanavati as well and the commission came to be called as Nanavati-Shah commission. In September 2008, the commission came up with the part-I of the report in which it upheld the initial police investigation which had pointed out Godhra Kaand to be a planned conspiracy. The report named Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji, an influential cleric as the mastermind behind the incident. It also named a dismissed CRPF constable Nanumiyan, Abdul Razzak Kurkur among others as the ones who planned the attack.
In September 2004, the then Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav appointed a separate commission under former Supreme Court Justice Umesh Chandra Bannerjee. In January 2005, Justice Banerjee presented his interim report on Godhra Kaand, which claimed that the cause of the fire was accidental and the “Conspiracy Theory” which was put forward by the police was ruled out. The findings of the commission were challenged by one of the victims, Neelkanth Tulsidas Bhatia in the Gujarat High Court. The HC ruled that the findings of the Bannerjee commission were not consistent with the facts and dismissed the report. It clearly stated that the report should not be tabled in the Parliament and questioned the need for a separate commission when there was already a commission probing it. Sources:
In February 2011, a special court announced its judgement on the case. The court upheld that the incident was indeed a planned conspiracy as per the findings of the Nanavati-Shah commission. However, the chief accused and the alleged mastermind Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji was acquitted on the basis of lack of evidence. 31 people were found guilty and convicted on the basis of murder and conspiracy provisions of Sections 302 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code respectively and under Sections 149, 307, 323, 324, 325, 326, 332, 395, 397, and 436 of the Code and some sections of the Railway Act and Police Act. 11 people were sentenced to death and 20 were sentenced to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, 63 people were acquitted in the case.
The verdict was appealed in the Gujarat High Court by both the prosecution as well as the accused. The Gujarat government sought death sentences for those 20 convicts who were awarded the sentence of life imprisonment. It also challenged the acquittal of 61 people. On Monday, i.e. on October 9, 2017, the Gujarat High Court delivered its judgement in which the death sentence awarded to the 11 convicts was commuted to life imprisonment. It also directed the Railways and the state government to pay Rs. 10 lakh to each victim. Apart from this, it upheld the judgement of the special trial court. The verdict was a disappointment to the victims some of whom are still in shock due to the incident which brought about a tragic change in their lives. The victims for whom these 15 years have been a source of great sorrow were disappointed with the verdict.
Now let us analyse the case and determine why Godhra Kaand is one of the rarest of the rare cases which probably qualifies under the criteria which is used to determine capital punishment in India. As per the Indian Penal Code, Sections 120B and 302, 303 are capital offences. 120B deals with being a party to a criminal conspiracy and 302, 303 deals with murder. Both are capital offences and the murder of 59 innocent people surely qualifies for capital punishment.
Let me rephrase it actually. The brutal, cold blooded murder of 59 innocent people, consisting of senior citizens, 27 women, and 10 children by burning them alive in a train coach most certainly qualifies for capital punishment. It is what they call rarest of the rare cases.
From 1947 to 2017, how many incidents like Godhra Kaand have occurred? How many such murders have taken place and how many such conspiracies have been carried out? The 2002 Godhra train burning incident was indeed the rarest of the rare cases. The HC has just announced the judgement. There is a provision for both parties to appeal in the Supreme Court and only time will tell if an appeal is made and if the Supreme Court takes these points into consideration before delivering the final judgement in case there is an appeal.