Twenty years, four months and 13 days of trial. As many as 190 prosecution witnesses. All 27 surviving accused persons acquitted. This, after 13 deaths, 11 of them targeted killings, one woman was gang-raped and her toes chopped, and one man murdered.
It was as chilling as asking did nobody kill Jessica when a 153-page judgment by a central Gujarat’s Panchmahal (Godhra) sessions court on March 31, 2023, acquitted all 27 out of 39 surviving accused persons since none of the 190 witness testimonies added up the prosecution’s case.
These were three incidents of post-Godhra communal violence in Kaalol in Panchamahal district on March 1, 2002. Two persons were killed in mob clashes, while 11 were done to death in targeted attacks on a group of minorities running away from assailants.
Out of the 39 accused persons, including four Muslims and the then former PSI of Kaalol Police Station RJ Patil, the latter and 12 others died during the two-decade old trial.
The prosecution had charged the accused persons for rioting, unlawful assembly, rioting with armed weapons, murder and causing disappearance of evidence, among other sections.
Giving the verdict, 3rd Additional Sessions Judge L G Chudasma of the Haalol court observed, “The prosecution case is based on mere suspicion without any evidences on record.”
As many as eight separate chargesheets were filed by the Kaalol police for the incidents but the 190 witnesses had either “turned hostile”, “not supported the prosecution case” or were “unable to recall facts or identify accused”.
The most alarming of the cases was a targeted massacre in Ambika Society, where a group of 38 from a community, running away from Delol village to Kaalol were attacked. The prosecution had said 11 people were killed and set on fire while 17 others, including an eight-year-old, escaped.
One of the women had alleged that she was gang-raped and that one of her toes were chopped off by the attackers. But, for some reason, she “failed to identify the accused”, and so the court concluded that “the gang-rape cannot be proven”.
Another case was the killing of one Imran Ghodawala allegedly with a sword and then dragged by the mob into a masjid which was then set on fire. Even here, none of the witnesses corroborated the facts. So the court observed that their testimonies did not help the prosecution.
According to the prosecution’s case, the mobs went berserk destroying properties and vehicles in Punji Faliya, Jetpur Seem, Porwad, Kalal Zampa, Kaalol GIDC, and set on fire brickwork and standing crops in a field, causing property damages of Rs 45.47 lakh.
In the same pattern, another mob destroyed property worth Rs 2.5 lakh. But the court pointed out that the testimonies of the witnesses were a mismatch with the prosecution’s case. It observed, “Those whose properties had been damaged have also not named any accused or identified any accused.”
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