Naroda witnesses say: please don’t ask us why we changed
The National Human Rights Commission’s move today should have an echo in these voices. Among the victims of the Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 89 were charred to death, are several witnesses who have retracted their statements. But so strong is the fear hanging over them that their constant refrain is: ‘‘leave us alone, we want to get on with our lives.’’
Ahmedabad, July 31: The National Human Rights Commission’s move today should have an echo in these voices. Among the victims of the Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 89 were charred to death, are several witnesses who have retracted their statements. But so strong is the fear hanging over them that their constant refrain is: ‘‘leave us alone, we want to get on with our lives.’’
• In his complaint to the police on March 2, Rafik Tyrewalla named VHP leader Jaideep Patel as the one who led the mob on February 28 that killed over 90 people in Naroda Patiya, including Rafik’s father and brother.
• Ayubbhai Musabhai, another resident, named Bajrang Dal leader Girish Hargovind.
• Rasik Hussain, Yunusmiya and Abdul Rajak Hussain — all victims of Naroda Patiya — named Jaideep Patel, Bajrang Dal’s Babu Bajrangi, BJP activist Kantilal Dudhreta and other VHP activists.
But one by one, all of them withdrew their complaints submitting affidavits to the police saying they had given the wrong names and that those whom they named were not in the mob. Officials of the Islamic Relief Committee conducting relief and rehabilitation in Naroda Patiya say some of the witnesses and complainants have been threatened and intimidated into filing affidavits, disowning their own statements, while the others simply settled for a ‘‘gainful’’ compromise.
‘‘When we came to know that Rafik Tyrewalla is giving an affidavit that he named wrong persons, we approached him. All he said was he wanted to forget the past and start a new life,’’ said Allauddin Ansari, an official of Islamic Relief Committee.
Rafik, who has shifted from Naroda Patiya, is wary of talking to anyone. His new business card does not mention his name. After several attempts to meet him at his new shop that he opened far away from Naroda Patiya, he agreed to speak to The Indian Express but did not want to discuss anything related to February 28.
‘‘Let’s us not go over the past all over again. Let bygones be bygones. I don’t want to even acknowledge I filed a complaint. I have started a new life...let me live without fear. My family’s safety is of utmost importance to me now,’’ he said.
Ayubbhai Musabhai, who initially named Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi as one of the attackers, has moved from Naroda Patiya. Asked about his changed affidavit, he says: ‘‘I don’t have the will to withstand the constant pressure to keep my mouth shut. Nobody takes names, but somebody at the cycle repair shop casually warns me to be careful...the message is loud and clear to me. Anyway, who cares now...is jhanjhat se chutkara chahiye tha..likh ke de diya..,’’ (I just wanted to get rid of this trouble, so I gave them the affidavit.)
Faridabanu, a resident of Naroda Patiya, and Sairabanu Mehboob Sheikh of Hukum Singh ki Chali, claimed to be witnesses to the killings in Naroda Patiya. They named Guddu Chara, a Bajrang Dal worker and a local resident, claiming that he led a mob.
At first, the Naroda police declared Guddu absconding and he was arrested five months later. ‘‘For five months, both women stood their ground and accused Guddu of leading a mob,’’ says Allauddin Ansari. ‘‘We were preparing papers to make representations to NHRC about shoddy investigation of Naroda Patiya case when all of a sudden both women did a volte face. They said they did not want to take his name any more and refused to sign a statement naming him.’’
Says M T Rana, assistant commissioner of police of Naroda: ‘‘Guddu has been named in the chargesheet. I don’t know if he has threatened witnessess into silence.’’
When contacted by The Indian Express Faridabanu said: ‘‘Who all are you going to advise to speak the truth in court? Sab ko apni jaan pyari hai,’’ (Everyone wants to live)’’