Nine years after the incident, 31 people have been found guilty by a Gujarati court for burning down the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, while another 63 were acquitted due to conflicting testimony. In 2002, the Sabarmati Express was carrying mainly Hindu pilgrims back from Ayodhya when it was set upon by a mob of hundreds. Nearly 60 pilgrims died and it was widely assumed, correctly as it happens, that Muslims were responsible. This led to widespread massacres of Muslims in Gujarat — encouraged by the state’s chief minister, Narendra Modi — that took nearly 2,000 Muslim lives.
While justice may have been belatedly served in the Godhra case, Modi is still in charge in Gujarat and has become the state’s longest-serving chief minister. His conduct during the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002 was so egregious that the US cancelled his visa on the grounds of ‘severely violating religious freedom’. Yet, Modi has been investigated by the Indian Supreme Court and found to have held no responsibility for the massacres. Modi has always been an odious character. Few remember that he initially blamed the Godhra attack on a “cross-border conspiracy”. That has now been shown to be manifestly untrue.
Justice has not been available for most of those killed in the Gujarat violence. Four public enquiries and countless trials have been held to apportion blame and responsibility for the massacres. But anti-Muslim sentiment in Gujarat lingers to this day, to the point that most of the trials dating back to that violent period have to be conducted out of the state. Many of those directly responsible for attacking Muslims during those fateful two months have been found guilty and locked up. But the politicians who egged them on and the police that turned a blind eye got off scot-free. Until they are held accountable, Gujarat will not be able to turn its back on this bloody era and move on.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2011.