Supreme Court slams Gujarat government over riots

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court slammed the government of Gujarat yesterday, saying it had no faith that the western Indian state would bring Hindu rioters to book for bloodletting in communal riots last year. 

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice V.N. Khare hit out at the government of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, saying its legal actions against those involved in the killings was an “eyewash.” 

“I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat government. You have to protect people and punish the guilty. What else is “Rajdharma” (government duty)?” asked the chief justice. 

“You quit if you cannot prosecute the guilty. Democracy does not mean you will not prosecute anyone,” he added.  

The Supreme Court was hearing a joint petition filed by India's autonomous National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and 17-year-old Zaheera Sheikh to reopen the trial of 21 people acquitted for the deadly torching of a bakery in Gujarat. 

The court again ordered Gujarat's Hindu nationalist-led government to extend full protection to Zaheera, who has fled the state as she seeks justice for her father and 11 workers who were burned to death in the Best Bakery. 

It also ordered Gujarat state's chief secretary and director general of police to appear before it on Sept 19. 

The 21 were acquitted in July by a court in Gujarat after Zaheera and 72 other witnesses retracted their incriminating testimony. 

Zaheera said later that she lied in court after being threatened by local rightwing Hindu leaders. 

When it became clear that the NHRC and Zaheera were not going to let the case fizzle out, the Modi government lodged an appeal on Aug 7 in the Gujarat High Court challenging the controversial acquittals. 

“It appears to us that it (the government appeal) is an eyewash. We will not be silent spectators. We will act if the state keeps silent,” the Supreme Court said. 

It suggested the Gujarat government think of appointing an independent prosecuting agency in the case and other riot cases to seek swift justice for the victims. – AFP  

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