The early morning on 27th February, 2002, India witnessed a civil massacre comprising of blood hue and cry, an entire compartment – S6 of Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad was set on fire killing 58 people (26 women, 12 children and 20 men) and43 persons had sustained injuries. This resulted into one of the fierce riots that were organized in Gujarat and genocide of hundreds of Muslim took place. What is the truth behind this, let us find out.
The Sabarmati Express, on its return journey from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad, reached Godhra on the morning of February 27, 2002. It was full of activists armed with trishuls and lathis, who got down at every passing station shouting Hindutva slogans. Many passengers felt harassed by this misbehavior but kept quiet since the slogan-shouters had captured all the reserved seats in the train, which was packed to capacity. The train arrived at the Godhra railway station at 7.30 am (three hours late). There were certain unsavory incidents on the platform. A Muslim girl was molested and an attempt made to pull her into the train. A Muslim tea vendor, who boarded coach S-6, was insulted and sent out of the coach by the rowdy elements some of whom climbed onto the roof of the train and made obscene gestures at Muslim women living opposite the railway station. There was some stone-throwing, from both inside and outside the train.
How did the fire start?
The State Government has held that the Ghanchi Muslims residing near the railway station gathered in large numbers and attacked the kar sevaks by throwing fireballs into the train, which caused the fire. The full capacity of the train was about 1100 but it was actually carrying about 2000 passengers, mainly kar sevaks spread all over the train and not just in coach S-6. The Collector of Godhra informed the Tribunal that five bodies could be identified. One was that of the local railway station master’s wife. No one could assert that all the dead bodies were those of kar sevaks.
Mystery of the Fire
Significantly, only one coach, S-6, had been burnt and the fire had not spread to the other coaches. It was not clear whether the train was stopped because of the fire or whether the coach was set on fire after the train had stopped. If the latter was correct, why was the train stopped at all? It could be that because of the fire, someone pulled the chain. As the train left the Godhra station, all the windows and doors of coach S-6 as well as those of the other coaches remained closed because of the stone throwing. When the train was stopped, nobody from the outside could identify any particular person from any particular coach as a kar sevak, though they were overwhelmingly present in the train. The fact that the fire did not spread to the remaining coaches clearly indicated that it originated within S-6. This also explains why only persons in that coach died. In all probability, as the fire broke out, extreme panic resulted. Many men managed to escape through the vestibules to the other coaches, leaving mostly women and children behind, who succumbed to the fire. The evidence suggested that the passengers had had their belongings stacked against the doors making it impossible for anyone to easily get out of or get into coach S-6.
Findings of the Tribunal
The Tribunal inspected the burnt coach S-6 on May 7, 2002. The sloping site where the train had stopped is an elevated bund. From the ground level, the height of the bund could be about 12-15 feet high. At the top, there was no space for 2000 persons to assemble on both sides of the track. If so many had actually gathered there, the crowd would have spread over a much larger area than the stretch of coach S-6. If the government version were true, the other coaches should have been targeted as much as coach S-6. Taking into account the height of the bund and the height at which the train stood, no fire-balls could have been lobbed in; the outside of the coach did not show signs of charring. The Tribunal found no marks below the coach windows; the charred marks were to be seen only at or above the window level, clearly indicating that the fire had actually started inside the coach and its leaping flames had signed the outside of the compartment, above the window level. Even to the naked eye, it was clear that the fire was from within, not from outside.
The findings of the Tribunal were later confirmed by the reports of the State Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL). The relevant section of the Forensic Science Laboratory report (State of Gujarat, New Mental Corner, Ahmedabad-16, Spot Investigation Report No. 2 regarding CR No. 9/2002, Godhra Railway Police Station), filed by Assistant Director Dr M.S. Dahiya, clearly stated:
”It was found that the height of the window of the coach was around 7 ft. from the ground at the place. Under this circumstance, it was not possible to throw any inflammable fluid inside from outside the coach from any bucket or carboy, because by doing this, most of the fluid was getting thrown outside. At the place of the incidents, there was one heap of grit, of three feet height at a distance of around 14-ft, in the southern side of the coach. Water was thrown on the windows of the coach with the help of bucket standing on the top of the said heap, in that case only about 10 to 15 per cent of the water went inside and the rest of the quantity was spilled outside itself. Thus, if the inflammable fluid is thrown from outside, then a major part of it would fall around the track outside and catch fire and cause damage to the outer part of bottom side of the coach. But after examination of the coach and the track, no effect was found of the fire on bottom side below the windows of the coach. By taking into consideration this fact, and also the burning pattern of the outer side of the coach, a conclusion can be drawn that no inflammable fluid had been thrown inside from outside the coach.
“There also appears to be no possibility that any inflammable liquid was thrown through the door of the bogie. By observing the condition of the frames of the windows of the coach, it appears that all the windows of the coach were closed during the time of the fire.”
The Tribunal was convinced that the fire came from inside. This was seen from the inner side of the coach. The intensity of the fire was such that even the iron rods, the seats, the fans were all burnt to such an extent that we found them twisted and molten out of shape. The Tribunal found rice and wheat partly burnt and scattered all across the floor of compartment S-6. Some of the Tribunal witnesses stated that kar sevaks had stoves in the train. The FSL report showed that for such an intensity of fire, 60 litres of inflammable liquid had to be poured into the coach, “by using a wide mouthed container”. The question arose: where was this container? There is no evidence of anyone carrying 60 litres of inflammable liquid. At what point of time was the liquid taken inside the coach, or into the passage? Who was travelling in the train? If such a large number of kar sevaks, armed with trishuls and in an aggressive mood, were inside the train, how could the Ghanchi Muslims enter the train? And how could they have carried so much petrol openly or even clandestinely without being discovered by the passengers?
So, the mystery of the fire remained, the only thing certain being the fact that it came from within.
Was Godhra Pre-Planned?
The evidence analyzed above clearly indicated that the incident was not pre-planned by the Muslims, as alleged by the State Government. In this connection, The Times of India on March 29, 2002 reported a statement made by the IGP, Railways, P.P. Agja, to the effect that there was no evidence of a pre-planned conspiracy behind the Godhra incident. He added: “The case is still being investigated and if there was some deep conspiracy, then we are yet to find it.’’ He further told The Times of India, standing in front of the railway police station on the platform where the trouble had began:
“According to the sequence of events as found by the police, all was not well in coach S-6 of the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express on that day. A group of unruly Ram sevaks had boarded the train at Lucknow without reservations and had put to discomfort the 66 genuine passengers of the coach. Some of the ticket-paying passengers had to sleep on the floor; so overcrowded had the compartment become that the ticket collector who came aboard the train at Ratlam (two stations before Godhra) was not allowed to enter the coach.
“At Godhra station, the hawkers on the platform started stoning the train after an unsavoury incident, especially targeting coach S-6, because some occupants of the coach had given offence. At any point of time, there are some 250 hawkers on the station. Some of them carry stoves with kerosene in them. All of them live in the slum called Signal Falia, next to the station.
“This means it is not surprising that a crowd could collect at the station so fast. The people, who live cheek by jowl in the slums next to the station, include a fair share of criminals indulging in railway crimes like looting, pick-pocketing and stealing of goods of passengers and also railway property. All of them are Ghanchi Muslims and they are uneducated, without any jobs and poor.”
It was thus clear that the attack on S-6 coach was not pre-meditated.
From 8.30 am, just after the fire on the Sabarmati Express took place, until 7.30 pm that evening, repeated statements by the Godhra District Collector, Smt Jayanthi Ravi, relayed on Doordarshan and Akashwani (radio) stated that “the incident was not pre-planned, it was an accident”.
As is evident from the voluminous evidence recorded by the Tribunal, and substantive other evidence made available to it, investigating officials did not find any proof of the Godhra atrocity being pre-planned.
However, by the evening of February 27, a well-thought-out scheme to extract maximum political capital out of Godhra had been launched. As part of this scheme, at around 2.30 am, the bodies of the kar sevaks were brought to Ahmedabad in a provocative procession. Around 500 people were waiting outside the Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad for the charred bodies to arrive from Godhra. By 3.35 am on February 28, a convoy of five trucks led by a pilot Gypsy entered the hospital compound. The State Government and the administration, instead of appealing for restraint and peace, became the agents of a well-planned action against innocent Muslims of the State that was in fact projected as a ‘reaction’. The corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra train fire were used to launch a statewide program.