How Police Officers Defied the Orders of Their Superiors to Protect Muslims in Naroda Patiya

01 January, 2016

RB Sreekumar was the additional director general of the Gujarat police in the intelligence department, a post he took over soon after the Godhra riots in 2002. 

In August 2004, Sreekumar deposed against the state government and filed nine affidavits in front of the Nanavati-Mehta commission, which was investigating the carnage. In 2005, he was denied a promotion on the grounds that that a case from 1987—a period during which he was the superintendent of police in Kutch—was pending in court. He subsequently took the case to the Central Administrative Tribunal, which ruled in his favour in September 2006. The Gujarat government had also initiated a probe against Sreekumar for maintaining a “secret official diary” and for giving out “classified information” to the panel. He got a stay on this investigation from the Supreme Court in October 2015.

Sreekumar’s book Gujarat: Behind the Curtain, which was released in December last year, criticises the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar for its role in the violence. Sreekumar also condemns the United Progress Alliance government for its failure in the delivery of justice to the victims of the riot.

In the following excerpt, Sreekumar describes how his explicit orders to protect the Muslims in Naroda Patiya were defied on 28 February 2002, leading to the death of 96 people.

The constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Dr RK Raghavan (former Director, Central Bureau of Investigation) in March 2008, on the request of the National Human Rights Commission and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) spearheaded by Teesta Setalvad evoked great optimism and expectation among riot victim survivors. On 9 May 2008, I met Dr RK Raghavan in the SIT office, Gandhinagar, and submitted a statement relating to nine major mass murder cases under SIT investigation along with copies of my four affidavits to the commission, requesting for further action. An extract of my statement relevant to investigation of Naroda Patiya case, is given below:

“At about 10.30 AM (28th February 2002) while I was in my office chamber in Police Bhavan, Gandhinagar, Shri Khurshid Ahmed, IPS (Gujarat, 1977 batch, belonging to Bihar) Commandant, SRPF [State Reserve Police Force], Group-II, headquartered in Saijpur area, near Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad city, informed me that a group of about 500 Muslims, including women and children were knocking at the gates of SRP entrance and requesting for shelter as they were pursued by VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] led armed violent mobs. From my office I ordered for immediate opening of gates and housing the refugees in the barracks which were vacant as men had gone out for bandobast. I had also directed the Commandant to permit all citizens seeking shelter inside the SRP camp. A fax message was sent to the Commandant, confirming my above instructions. The Second-in-Command to Shri Khurshid Ahmed was one Shri Qureshi. Both the officers were quite shaky and worried about permitting the Muslim refugees inside the SRP campus. So, I told them that in case anybody was questioning them they could explain that they were complying with ADGP’s written orders (I was ADGP, Armed Units, supervising administration of 11 SRP battalions). Later, the State Government had claimed that they saved 500 Muslims by sheltering them in the SRP campus. But there was pathetic, unfortunate and deplorable postscript in the whole affair. It is learnt from SRPF officers that by afternoon of 28 February 2002, under pressure from higher authorities and local leaders, the Commandant had closed the gates to the refugees, without informing me. Consequently, in front of SRPF, Group-II entrance, nearly 100-130 Muslims were (reportedly) killed, many women were gang raped and dead bodies were reportedly dumped in a nearby abandoned well. In fact, the Hindu mobs found the Muslims gathered outside the SRPF entrance as an easy target, available at a single spot. It is pertinent to note that after the riots, Shri Khurshid Ahmed was posted as Deputy Commissioner of Police in Surat city, a coveted post by SP level officers, considering the prosperity of the area and prestige attached to the post. Shri Khurshid Ahmed’s wife Mrs Shamina Husain (IAS, 1997, Gujarat, belonging to Madhya Pradesh) was posted as District Development Officer (DDO) in the rich Valsad district. Later, she was posted as Collector, Surendranagar district…There are practically no instances of Muslim officers, that too belonging to outside States, getting such ‘priced postings’. Significantly, Shri Qureshi, Dy Commandant, was soon promoted as Commandant and posted in Group-XIII in Rajkot city. He was also given the second police medal, for distinguished service, which is rarely awarded to SRPF officers. In the bureaucratic circles, it is whispered that these postings were given as rewards for facilitating Naroda Patiya massacre.”

SIT did not summon me and record my statement under 161 CrPC, a legal requirement for appreciating evidentiary merit of my deposition. Though I had given order from my office to open SRP camp for the Muslims I was not cited as a prosecution witness in the Naroda Patiya massacre case. Despite my offer to undergo personally forensic tests, I was not put through Narco and Brain Finger Print Tests. Riot victims often expressed their concern, disillusionment and apprehension about the condemnable state of justice delivery to them by Gujarat Police and SIT investigating 9 major carnage cases through Gujarat Police officers. I had always been assuring them to have astute faith in the impartiality, dexterity and integrity of our Criminal Justice System and keenness of judiciary, to deliver speedy justice, lest they may get influenced by indoctrination drive of anti-national sectarian Jihadi militants. According to them, SIT devotedly followed the roadmap provided to them by Gujarat Police in the investigation of major carnage cases. But unlike Gujarat Police, who allegedly tried to turn witnesses and complainants, hostile through inducement, threat and intimidation, for sabotaging the very validity of even FIRs against the accused supported by the State Government, SIT was protective and empathetic to them, thanks to implementation of witness protection scheme on the Supreme Court orders, on the representation by CJP. While Gujarat Police tried to save practically all accused in anti-minority cases from clutches of law–only 30-35 cases, out of 2,000 odd riot cases, reinvestigated by Gujarat Police on the Supreme Court orders had reached the stage of prosecution and in the remaining cases, witnesses including riot victim survivors did not corroborate their own statements to police during the trial before the court. SIT had arrested and chargesheeted at least those indulged in violence directly, if not, planners, organizers, mobilizers and enablers of anti-minority crimes. SIT had assiduously kept the complicity level of offenders in main crimes at the category of foot soldiers only. Except two police Inspectors, no higher officer was found to be even remotely responsible for any criminal negligence of duties, facilitating attacks by Hindu mobs.

After a lot of hue and cry made by activists and riot victims only, DySP Noel Parmar, the Investigating Officer of Godhra train fire case, who was continuing months after his retirement, was relieved of his responsibility in this case. Two main witnesses of this case, in an extra-judicial admission, revealed that they were bribed by Noel Parmar for supporting police theory on genesis of train fire. Moreover, SIT did not find any professional lapses in the investigation of riot cases by Gujarat Police, though the Special Courts, in their judgments, convicting many accused in Naroda Patiya and Sardarpura mass killing cases, severely indicted police for their intentional lapses in the investigation before SIT took charge of the case.

The non-enforcement of curfew imposed in the area by Commissioner of Police (Ahmedabad city), led to armed men freely attacking minority habitats and killing 96 persons. The local police did not arrest anybody for curfew violation and prosecuted them under Section 188 IPC. Was it not blatant connivance to the commission of crimes?

Excerpted from Gujarat: Behind the Curtain by RB Sreekumar, published by Manas Publications.