The Supreme Court dismissed a plea filed by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, challenging a clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and several others in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Ehsan Jafri, a former MP, was among 68 killed at Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, a day after a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt at Godhra, killing 59 people and triggering riots in the state.
Here’s a timeline of the events:
February 27, 2002
On the morning of February 27, 2002, a coach of the Sabarmati Express — Coach S6 — was set ablaze and 59 passengers traveling in that coach were charred to death. The train had arrived at Godhra station in Gujarat just then. The victims included 27 women and 10 children. Injuries were suffered by another 48 passengers in the train.
The train burning incident had within hours triggered violent riots across the state. The riots broke out on the evening of February 27 and continued for 2-3 months across the state. The Center in 2005 informed Rajya Sabha that the riots claimed the lives of 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims. A total 223 people were reported missing. Tens of thousands were rendered homeless as well. The details were later published at the recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission.
The Supreme Court constituted a Special Investigation Team to investigate the incident that caused the riots.
June 1, 2009
Trials in the case started over eight years after the incident on June 1, 2009.
March 1, 2011
A special SIT court convicted 31 people on March 1, 2011, out of whom 11 were awarded death sentences and 20 life imprisonment. The court also acquitted 63 people in the case. The SIT court concurred with the charges of the prosecution that this was not an incident of unplanned mob outrage and rather it involved conspiracy. The 31 convicts were convicted under the Indian Penal Code related to criminal conspiracy, sections and attempt to murder.
September 12, 2011
The Supreme Court refused to pass any order on Narendra Modi’s alleged inaction to contain the 2002 riots and referred the matter to the concerned magistrate in Ahmedabad for a decision.
February 8, 2012
SIT filed a closure report in the Supreme Court giving a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others, out of which many were senior government officials. The SIT said there was “no prosecutable evidence” against them.
January 9, 2014
Protest petition by Zakia Jafri against SIT’s clean chit to Narendra Modi in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots was rejected by an Ahmedabad court. Jafri said she was not disheartened after the verdict and would appeal against it.
June 2, 2016
A special SIT court in Ahmedabad on Thursday convicted 24, including a VHP leader, in the 2002 post-Godhra Gulberg society, which left 69 people including the former Congress MP dead. Thirty six others were acquitted.
Zakia Jafri expressed her discontent at the special court verdict in the Gulberg Society case.
October 5, 2017
The Gujarat High Court upheld the judgment of a metropolitan court that accepted a clean chit to the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 60 others in connection with the 2002 post-Godhra riots, and rejected Zakia Jafri’s claims that the riots were part of a “larger conspiracy”.
November 19, 2018
In 2018, Zakia Jafri filed a petition in the challenging Supreme Court’s October 5, 2017 order rejecting her plea against the decision of the SIT. The Supreme Court decided to take up the petition on November 19, 2018. The plea also maintained that after the SIT gave a clean chit in its closure report a trial judge, Zakia Jafri filed a petition which was dismissed by the magistrate without considering “substantiated merits”.
October 26, 2021
The Supreme Court said that it wanted to see the closure report filed before a Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Ahmedabad by the SIT, giving a clean chit to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 63 others.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal who appeared for Zakia Jafri, told the Bench, which included Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, that the SIT and the courts did not look at Jafri’s complaints and other relevant facts. He submitted that Jafri’s complaint was not limited to the Gulberg Society violence in which her husband was killed, and the SC-appointed SIT “ignored” evidence;
October 27, 2021
The Supreme Court-appointed SIT denied contentions by Zakia Jafri that it had not gone into all the facts related to the communal incidents, stating that it had “faithfully investigated everything”.
“We will show you that we have faithfully investigated everything,” Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the SIT, told a bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar.
November 11, 2021
Zakia Jafri demanded that the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, which gave a clean chit to then chief minister Narendra Modi in her closure report, itself “should be investigated”.
Appearing for Jafri, Kapil Sibal told Supreme Court bench that “SIT was concluding contrary to the facts. In fact such SITs should be investigated.” Sibal recalled that the SIT was set up because the National Human Rights Commission moved the SC, saying that the local police were not investigating properly. But the SIT also did not investigate as it should have, he said.
November 16, 2021
The Supreme Court asked Zakia Jafri how she could say the SIT “collaborated” with the accused when the team had filed chargesheets that ended in convictions in riot-related cases.
“You are attacking the manner of investigation done by SIT. It is the same SIT that had filed chargesheet in other cases, and they were convicted. No such grievance in those dates,” the court told Kapil Sibal.
The remarks came when Sibal said there is “glaring evidence of collaboration. The political class became collaborators. This is the stark story about collaboration with accused.”
November 24, 2021
The SIT told the top court that it had not shielded anyone and ruled that “uncharitable” remarks were being made against it. “We were not shielding anybody,” senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi told the Supreme Court.
November 25, 2021
The SIT termed as “absurd” the contention that burning of the coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express train that led to the riots was “orchestrated” by Hindutva groups.
“The allegation is (that) even before the incident, there were arms pile-up before February 27. It boggles my mind. Say I am a radical Hindu member of VHP and I am keeping arms on February 25 without knowing the date of the train burning incident, that makes no sense…” senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court.
“Or you are saying this train burning was also orchestrated? That can’t be (true), because the train was delayed by five hours and was only going to stop for two minutes,” he submitted. “They could not have known…It’s absurd. There is a limit to what is being said here.”
December 8, 2021
Zakia Jafri told Supreme Court that she had not spoken about her allegations of a larger conspiracy behind the riots while deposing in the trial of the Gulberg Society killings case, as she was only a witness and not complainant in that case.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeared for Jafri, told a bench that being a prosecution witness, she had to confine her statements to what she knew about the particular case.
“She appeared as a witness witness in 2010…. She was not a complainant in the Gulberg trial and was required to give evidence only regarding what was needed to be proved…” Sibal said.
December 9, 2021
The Supreme Court had reserved its order on the appeal on December 9, 2021 after hearing all sides.
June 24, 2022
The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by Zakia Jafri challenging the clean chit given by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who was then chief minister of the state — and others in connection with the riot-related cases in Gujarat.
The SC bench upheld the decision of the Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate to accept the closure report submitted by the SIT – which was appointed by the top court – and reject the petition filed by Jafri against accepting the report.
The Supreme Court held that Zakia’s appeal was “devoid of merits and deserves to be dismissed”.