Background Briefing

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III. Cases of Threats, Intimidation and Harassment of Victims, Witnesses, and Activists

Official Harassment 

The state of Gujarat appears to have employed police investigations and enquiries by tax officials to intimidate activists working on behalf of those injured in the Gujarat riots. While the state government has the right to enforce criminal and tax laws, human rights activists claim that these kinds of investigations, on this scale, did not take place before the Supreme Court verdicts.  They claim that the state has been selectively targeting individuals and groups prominently working to ensure that the violence against Muslims in 2002 is addressed by the legal and judicial systems.

VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders have boasted in private to journalists that tying up activists in lengthy legal proceedings is an effective to way to teach a lesson to the “pseudo-secularists,” the term Hindu nationalists use for those that oppose their militant agenda. They offer the example of Tehelka, a private web-based investigative journal that had used hidden cameras to film senior politicians and officials accepting bribes in a fake defense deal.  Instead of punishing those caught taking bribes, the then BJP-led government in New Delhi set up a commission of inquiry where Tehelka became the de facto defendant—forced to prove the authenticity of its reportage. The VHP leaders say, with some satisfaction, that Tehelka was forced to close down because its editors were busy with court hearings and investors were too wary to put in more funds. (Although the investigation is still going on, Tehelka was later revived with the help of supporters and allies.)52 

1. Threats and harassment of Bilkis Yakub Rasool Patel

During the 2002 riots, Bilkis Yakub Rasool Patel and her family fled from their village when it was attacked by a Hindu mob. They were later tracked down. The women were raped and killed.  Bilkis, who was pregnant at the time, was gang-raped. Her three and a half year old daughter was snatched from her arms, and killed by being smashed to the ground. Bilkis survived only because the attackers presumed her to be dead. The Gujarat police made little attempt to prosecute the known perpetrators and closed the case. When Bilkis first went to the local police station on the following day, after she had come out of hiding, to lodge a complaint naming men prominently associated with the local  BJP unit as  members of the mob, her evidence was not recorded by the police. The case was later closed by the Gujarat police as “true but undetected.”53

However, when Bilkis appealed to the Supreme Court for an independent investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)54, the Gujarat government immediately ordered the local police to investigate the case again.  But instead of trying to arrest those responsible, members of the Gujarat (CID) Crime Branch began harassing Bilkis and her family.  Bilkis and other witnesses in the case repeatedly expressed fear of the Gujarat police. Their fear was so great that when the Gujarat government attempted to force witnesses to accept protection from the local police, they submitted their refusal in writing to the Police Inspector. Bilkis also complained to the Indian Supreme Court about harassment by Gujarat CID.  On September 25, 2003, the Supreme Court took the highly unusual step of ordering the state police to stop all investigations in the case––thereby accepting the validity of Bilkis’ complaint––until its final ruling.

 The CBI discovered a deliberate attempt by some Gujarat policemen and officials to cover up evidence in this case.55 The CBI filed charges against twenty people, including six policemen and two government doctors accused of tampering with evidence to shield the offenders. The CBI charge-sheet filed in April 2004 says that the local police, when lodging the initial complaint, “suppressed material facts and wrote a distorted and truncated version,” then claimed that the accused were unknown even though Bilkis had named them.  It also alleged that they had caused the disappearance of evidence to protect the offenders.56

In an affidavit supporting Bilkis’ plea to shift the trial out of Gujarat, the CBI wrote that, “It is apprehended that the witnesses might be threatened and harm could be caused to them after filing of the charge sheet and during the trial.”57  In fact, even the CBI has faced threats.  In April, CBI investigating officer K.N. Sinha submitted an affidavit saying that he had been threatened by some of the accused when, on the court’s directives, he had gone to photograph them in jail.58

On August 6, 2004, based on the report from the CBI which made it clear that the state administration could not be trusted to handle this case fairly, the Supreme Court ordered a change of venue from Gujarat to neighboring Maharashtra state.59 

2.  Police Inquiries and Interrogation of Mukhtar Muhammed, Kasimabad Education and Development Society

A Muslim businessman who had not been engaged in political activity prior to the 2002 riots, Mukhtar Muhammed and his family barely survived by running away from a mob around his home and going into hiding.  Several other Muslims in his neighborhood were not as fortunate and were injured or killed. After the violence, Muhhamed began a program to rescue Muslims isolated in villages still under threat of attacks.  With the permission of local officials, he helped organize a relief camp for 3,500 people displaced by the violence.

In 2003, Muhammed began working with human rights activists, officials and lawyers to reopen cases that had been closed due to negligent or intentionally inadequate police investigations and reports.  Muhammed helped produce affidavits from witnesses that led to a reinvestigation of many cases.  As a result, lawyers believe there are now at least eleven cases in which they have statements strong enough to win convictions.  Muhammed himself is a witness in some of these cases. 

According to Muhammed, the success of his work with Muslim victims resulted in a series of threats from local BJP leaders and those accused in the cases that he has worked on.  Through friends, he was also told that the families of the accused were willing to reward him if he stopped working with witnesses.  Muhammed filed a complaint with the NHRC’s Special Representative in Gujarat, alleging that he was being threatened by “influential, dominant and powerful people including politicians and ministers.”60  He continues to work in villages where he has been directly threatened or received offers of a bribe.  Muhammed suspects that some of the accused against whom he is gathering evidence have influential connections in the state administration. He fears they might deliberately be trying to discredit him by charging him with terrorism. 

Muhammed told Human Rights Watch:

They even started sending threats through Muslim leaders. When that did not work, they decided to tie me down in some legal or criminal case.61

Muhammed says that when it became apparent that he was ignoring suggestions from Muslim leaders––who often choose to collaborate with state authorities to secure their own safety––to give up his work on riot cases, he was named as a terrorist by BJP supporters, as well as a local newspaper called Sandesh, which often attacks Muslims on its pages.  In January and February 2004, investigators from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) visited Muhammed’s home and office.  He was also summoned to the CID office for interrogation. The investigating officials told him that he was a suspect in a bombing attack that occurred after the riots. They eventually dropped the investigation because Muhammed was able to prove that he was at a rehabilitation camp office on the day of the explosion.

In May 2004, another investigation was started against him. According to Muhammed:

The police said they had received orders from the Home Ministry based on a three-page complaint signed by fifteen or sixteen Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who said I was the mastermind in all the incidents after the Gujarat riots including bomb blasts and the attack in Akshardham.62 The police told me that they had already done their inquiry and asked me to reply to their questions. They covered minute details of my life. 63

Muhammed told the police that he had already been investigated and cleared.  But he was told that since there had been complaints about him, he had to be questioned again.  Muhammed says the questioning was aggressive and that the police were trying to trap him over inconsistencies about trivial facts, such as details of his whereabouts many months prior to the questioning.  Muhammed believes that the police persisted in their investigations only because the complaints came from leaders of the political party in power in Gujarat.  He also believes that the same people who lodged the complaints also act as protectors of those accused in riot cases. According to Muhammed, they are local level BJP or VHP leaders.  As a Muslim in Gujarat, Muhammad told Human Rights Watch that he fears that he may some day be arrested under POTA as punishment for trying to bring the guilty to justice.

Even without a successful prosecution, these complaints may have served their purpose.  For more than a year they have embroiled Muhammed in legal proceedings and disrupted his personal and professional life, leaving him with less time and energy to work on behalf of riot victims.  According to Muhammed, as of August 2004, the police investigations were still continuing.

The NHRC’s Special Representative, P.G.J. Nampoothiri, has cited Muhammed in his reports on Gujarat. Muhammed, he noted, had received threats because he had supplied information to a Gujarat government official, Neerja Gortu, who was investigating police failure to register riot cases.  Nampoothiri told the NHRC that individuals who provided information to Gortu, including Mukhtar Muhammed, had already received threats and that he feared the activists might face “legal action and/or physical assault.” 

In his complaint to the NHRC, Special Representative Nampoothiri, stated that:

Influential leaders…apprehending arrests and prosecution of their henchmen, have made representations to the government seeking action against those who helped Ms. Neerja’s team in identifying victims/witnesses.

3. Police Enquiries and Interrogation of Father Cedric Prakash, Director, Prashant, A Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace

Father Cedric Prakash was a leader in providing relief and rehabilitation to riot victims in 2002 through Prashant, a nongovernmental organization.  He has frequently spoken at national and international gatherings about the riots, talking about the involvement of BJP supporters in instigating the violence and the failure of the criminal justice system and the state judiciary in riot related cases. 

On April 26, 2004, an inspector from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Crime Branch came to interrogate Prakash in his office in Ahmedabad.  The officer arrived at 9:30 p.m. and informed Prakash that the he was acting on the directives of Hashmukh Adhia, the principal secretary at Chief Minister Modi’s office.  According to the inspector, the inquiry was based on an e-mail sent by Vishal Sharma, a well-known supporter of Chief Minister Modi, to the government of Gujarat, demanding that Prakash’s passport be impounded for his alleged anti-national activities. Although no formal charges were brought against him, according to Prakash, he was told that he was being investigated based on the e-mail, which referred to Prakash’s claims at international meetings that Hindu extremists were responsible for the riots, and for an interview he had supposedly given to a magazine, Milli Gazette, about his visits to prisoners detained under POTA at Sabarmati Jail and his opinion that these detainees were innocent.   

Prakash responded in writing to these charges that same evening, saying that he visited the Sabarmati Jail as a social worker and did not specifically meet prisoners held under POTA.  He also denied speaking to Milli Gazette, the magazine that Sharma had cited.   “I serve people without any discrimination of religion,” Fr. Prakash wrote in his statement.  “The sender of the e-mail wants to stop me working with people and is trying to malign my image.”64 

On June 8, 2004, Prakash was visited again by the same detective, who asked for another statement because the government needed further clarification regarding his work.  He was served a summons and asked to appear before the Crime Branch on June 10, 2004. He complied and was interrogated for about one-and-half hours in the presence of his lawyer.  He was asked again about the prisoners he had met in the Sabarmati Jail, what they discussed and how many times he had visited them. As Prakash told Human Rights Watch:

It was clear intimidation to see if I would crack down and admit something so that they could link me to some kind of terrorist activity.65

According to Prakash, the investigation continues.  His nongovernmental organization, Prashant, has also been questioned by the Charity Commissioner’s office. Prakash has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the investigation into Prakash’s statements may interfere with his right to freedom of expression under international law and may be intended, as in the cases below, to have a chilling effect not only on Prakash but other activists in Gujarat.

4. Inquiries by the Charity Commissioner of Ahmedabad against human rights activists

On June 1, 2004, several human rights and civic society organizations working on behalf of the victims of the Gujarat riots framed a charter of demands to the newly elected government in New Delhi.  Among other things, the charter called for an independent re-examination of all closed cases, cases of acquittal, and cases in which bail had been granted, and for monitoring of ongoing investigations and trials. It also called for a special judicial commission to inquire into the Godhra incident.  The activists called for the prosecution of all government and police officers that failed in their duty to prevent and control the violence and asked for legal measures to enable the prosecution of the Chief Minister and his cabinet for planning, instigating, and abetting the violence and failing to perform their duties to provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims.

Soon after the charter was released, the Charity Commissioner of Ahmedabad, an arm of the state government of Gujarat, began sending inspectors to the Gujarat-based NGOs that had signed the petition.  Staff members were questioned about their work, the object of their trust, and the names and addresses of their trustees.

According to Digant Oza, whose Satyajeet Trust is one of the NGOs investigated by the Charity Commissioner:

They asked for basic information like the names of the members of the trust and our objectives. They demanded all the information in writing—immediately. I don’t understand how these things can go on. Their purpose is clear. They are trying to find something on us, some activity that they can object to or some member who is not registered.  They are looking for a technical fault to catch us. These investigations are still going on.66

Activist Teesta Setalvad asks some simple questions:

If they are investigating charity organizations, why are they also not investigating the RSS groups?  Why are they only selectively looking at groups that working for the victims of Godhra and the riots that followed?67

While the government has the responsibility to ensure that NGOs comply with Indian law, the timing and the fact that these groups were working on riot-related cases suggests a deliberate attempt at harassment and intimidation.68  Many NGO officials told Human Rights Watch that they had never faced this kind of investigation before they started their work on riot cases. The offices of an NGO called Aman Samudaya, for instance, have not only had visits by the Charity Commissioner’s inspectors, but also from the intelligence bureau.69

On June 10, 2004, Father Cedric Prakash wrote to the National Human Rights Commission on behalf of all the NGOs and activists that had signed the charter of demands and were since questioned by the Charity Commissioner’s office: “Whilst we definitely agree that some this might be within the purview of law and within the mandate of the Police or the Charity Commissioner, the nature of the questions and obviously the attitude, clearly amounts to intimidation, harassment and brow-beating,” and petitioned the NHRC to intervene immediately and “direct the state government and its institutions to stop intimidating and harassing innocent citizens and to insist that the state ensures the human rights of every single individual.”70

5. Harrassment of Mallika Sarabhai, Darpana Academy of Performing Arts

Mallika Sarabhai runs one of India’s best-known performing arts institutions, the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, in Ahmedabad.  Mallika Sarabhai and her academy have been targeted by state authorities ever since she filed a public-interest petition in the Indian Supreme Court calling for the protection of the rights of those injured in the Gujarat riots and a thorough investigation into and punishment of those responsible.71  Manushi Shah, a former member of Darpana filed a complaint alleging that Sarabhai had reneged on a promise to get the student a visa to the U.S. despite making a promise to do so when she enrolled in the dance program.  Although Shah said that Darpana had refunded her fees and returned her passport once her visa application for the tour was rejected, she accused Sarabhai of denying her a “brilliant career in the US.” “In effect,” says Sarabhai, “she has accused me of not letting her immigrate illegally.”72

A criminal case of fraud and intention to cheat was, however, filed by state prosecutors in Ahmedabad.  A court then ordered her travel outside Gujarat restricted, saying that she would have to seek court permission before leaving Ahmedabad.  The hearings for permission are constantly delayed, Sarabhai complained, leaving organizers on tenterhooks, and several corporate sponsors pulled out rather than risk a last-minute cancellation.  In February 20, 2004, the Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to lift all restrictions imposed on Sarabhai, observing: “She is not a criminal. There has to be some fairness in the prosecution of persons.”73

Sarabhai claims that the charges were made with malicious intent in a clear case of harassment and intimidation.  She points out that her mother and then she have been running the school for fifty-six years, they have toured over ninety countries with hundreds of dancers and such charges have never been made before.74  Sarabhai see this as a conspiracy to get her to withdraw her public interest petition against the Gujarat government for its role in the riots, particularly because she later discovered that Shah’s parents were members of the RSS. Sarabhai has also been listed on the website of the Patriotic Sons of Mother India as a “human trafficker.”

Sarabhai told Human Rights Watch:

My appeal for a dismissal of the criminal case against me will come up for its final hearing in the Supreme Court next month, where I have filed for it to be thrown out.  It is significant though, that the same government that chose to close over 2,000 riot cases and delayed many others including many of brutal rape and murder for want of  trained public prosecutors, has been so diligent in appointing their two senior-most  prosecutors in my case where my only so-called crime is that I did not help a woman  to illegally immigrate to the United States.”75

The National Human Rights Commission asked the state government to look into these charges, citing a number of organizations and individuals who spoke in Sarabhai’s favor.

Mallika Sarabhai also told Human Rights Watch that since November 2003, she and her family have faced inquiries from the Income Tax department and the Charity Commissioner.  Sarabhai suspects that these inquiries have been instigated the state government, particularly because the investigations started just as her public interest litigation on the Gujarat riots was due to be taken up by the Supreme Court.  Earlier, she had received anonymous calls asking her to retract her petition. Sarabhai says she has heard from friends within the administration that there was a lot of pressure to “fix” her.76 Sarabhai is still out on bail which has to be extended every three months.  According to Sarabhai:

Darpana and I have been harassed and threatened continuously, amongst other things to try and cow me down into withdrawing my public interest litigation in the Supreme Court and to stop me talking at a variety of fora about the continuing boycott of the Muslims, the continuing lack of justice and other issues.77

Anonymous and Individual Threats and Intimidation

Witnesses, human rights workers, and lawyers fighting for justice in Gujarat have been subjected to threats and intimidation by extremist groups or anonymously, through phone calls or word of mouth.  For example, Haroon Rashid Abdul Sattar Mansoori, a key witness in a riot case, said that he was stopped near a gas station on July 15, 2004, and threatened by some of the accused, including one man who was arrested and later released on bail.78 Another witness, Ali Hasan, a laborer, claimed that he was arrested and framed in a murder trial after being summoned to the police station ostensibly to record a statement about the murder of three persons during the riots on February 28, 2002.79 

In an atmosphere of official hostility towards those supporting Muslim victims of the riots, the many acts of private intimidation and threats take on a more ominous character.  They raise questions about the political will in Gujarat to provide adequate protection for those seeking justice.

Some police officers, particularly at the junior levels, are open about their support for extremist Hindu nationalist ideology.  In fact, urging that critical cases be entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the NHRC has noted that, “It is the central principle in the administration of criminal justice that those against whom allegations are made should not themselves be entrusted with the investigation of those allegations.”80 In some cases when witnesses have approached local police stations to lodge complaints about intimidation, policemen have refused to register their report until activists asked senior officials to intervene.81  In other cases, complaints were lodged, but the police took no action to investigate or prosecute those responsible.

In June 2003, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, in a statement to the Nanavati-Shah Commission, complained that witnesses had no faith in an investigation that was being carried out “by a police force accused of grave lapses and misdemeanor during the violence,” and said that “human rights defenders, social workers and lawyers of the minority community fighting cases for justice have all been threatened and face a serious threat to their lives.”82  

Many working for justice in Gujarat believe they live in an atmosphere in which members of extremist groups can threaten and attack activists with impunity. Activists live in constant fear because if there is a planned assault by these groups, there is little evidence that the police would act forcefully to prevent an attack. They cite the example of Ehsan Jafri, who did not get aid from the local police during the riots, though he called senior officers several times.  He, and several others who had sought shelter with him, were killed.  “There is fear because we have seen during the riots that the police can show up too late,” says Father Prakash.83 

1. Threats against activists and lawyers working on riot-related cases.

Rais Khan Azeezkhan Pathan is a local Muslim activist who has been encouraging witnesses to testify.  He works closely with Suhel Tirmizi, a lawyer who has opposed bail applications of the accused.  They have both collaborated on several riot cases with activist Teesta Setalvad.  Each has received many threats. Each has ultimately received protection from the state government.  Each has concluded that the protection offered was insufficient and then turned to central authorities for protection.

In June 2003, Rais Khan was threatened by a group of Hindu extremists as he escorted witnesses to an official inquiry into the riots.  In November 2003, although he was with his police escort, Rais Khan received threats on his mobile phone.  The male voice threatened to “finish him off,” saying, “We are keeping track of you every minute.”84  In April 2004, he again received a call on his mobile phone asking him to stop working on riot-related cases. The anonymous caller also made sexually abusive remarks about Teesta Setalvad.85 

In April 2004 and again in June 2004, unidentified men claiming to be from Gujarat turned at Teesta Setalvad’s office-cum-home in Mumbai, demanding to see her. The guard at the gate refused to let them enter because they were aggressive and abusive.86 Setalvad has been among the most identifiable voices in the campaign for justice in Gujarat. Extremist supporters of the BJP and VHP have regularly called her ‘anti-national,’ as they did when they came to the Prashant office.87   Her name appears regularly as a ‘traitor’ on websites and chat rooms hosted by Hindu groups. She has also been viciously attacked in public speeches by VHP leaders, including by general secretary Praveen Togadia who said Setalvad should be prevented from entering Gujarat.88

Suhel Tirmizi says he faces opposition from some of his colleagues in the legal fraternity who support the extremist Hindu ideology. He has also received abusive anonymous phone calls asking him to stop his work, telling him that the caller knew where he and his family could be found.  Other lawyers have received direct or indirect threats and warnings because they appeared on behalf of riot victims and told to withdraw from these cases.  Lawyer-activist Huma Khan was threatened by the accused in court in Gujarat. Some other lawyers, who do not wish to be identified, have told Human Rights Watch that they have received warnings, in court, through anonymous phone calls, by email, or through others who are in touch with BJP/VHP supporters.

Tirmizi told Human Rights Watch:

Most lawyers in Gujarat are too scared to take up riot related cases. They feel isolated and do not want to face threats…I used to oppose bail applications of the accused, which is when I was identified and later threatened.89 

In June 2004, after being told that the security provided by the local police was not effective, the Supreme Court directed the central government to provide security to these three and the witnesses in their cases.  Each believes that the local police were acting more as informers to help the government keep track of his or her movements and meetings than as a protector.  Even with protection from New Delhi, they continue to receive threats via anonymous phone calls, threatening them for their work on the riot cases.

2. Threats against Trupti Shah and Rohit Prajapati, activists with People’s Union for Civil Liberties-Shanti Abhiyan

In 2002 Trupti Shah, a women’s rights activist, and her husband, Rohit Prajapati, who works with an environmental rights organization against industrial pollution, joined together with other volunteers to help riot victims. Together these groups formed a peace effort led by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Vadodara city.


Both have since received constant threats from right wing extremist groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, often in the guise of sympathetic warnings. Shah and Prajapati have lived in Vadodara for over twenty years and have friends who sympathize with the arguments of the Hindu groups.  Shah and Prajapati have been told repeatedly by these friends that others, more closely connected with the Bajrang Dal, the state government or the VHP, have asked them to pass on warnings to the activists to stop their work. Shah told Human Rights Watch:

They are told things like, “Tell your Muslim-loving friends that many people are angry with them. They should be careful.”90

They have also received threatening phone calls.  According to Shah:

When we were working with riot victims, we were called anti-national, anti-social, anti-development and anti-Hindu by local members of the VHP and Bajrang Dal when they talked about us to the media or with our local Hindu friends… Attempts are made to threaten us by giving warnings to stop all our human rights and environmental activities. We are receiving phone calls where the caller remains unidentified. Recently a caller gave details of Rohit’s movements on a particular day and said that he is being followed closely. Other callers abused us and referred to our work with great hatred. Such phone calls have restricted our movements. We have stopped traveling alone at night and are forced to spend more money for safe travel. Many times we cannot use our own two-wheeler as we used to, and are forced to hire a car. We have been trying to judge the purpose and location of these callers but it is not easy for lone activists without proper resources.91

On October 5, 2003, the caller ID on their phone recorded a cell phone number. The caller had initially claimed to be from the crime branch, but his number was later traced to a private detective agency.  A formal complaint was lodged with the police commissioner of Vadodara, but as of August 30, 2004, there had been no progress reported by the police in apprehending the caller.

3. Threats against Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and Father Cedric Prakash, Director, Prashant, A Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace

On April 12, 2004, the same day that the Supreme Court ordered the retrial and change of venue of the Best Bakery case, two men forced their way into the offices of Prashant in Ahmedabad.  They demanded to meet Teesta Setalvad, Convenor of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, a co-petitioner in the Best Bakery case, who happened to be on the premises for a meeting. One of the two men identified himself as “Dr. Atul.” 

Setalvad and some others present at Prashant for the meeting recognized the two men as Dr. Atul Vaidya and Bharat Teli, both of whom were among those accused in the so-called Gulbarg Society massacre during the 2002 riots, where at least sixty-five people, including Ehsan Jafri, a former member of India’s parliament, had been killed. Although named by witnesses as perpetrators, no charges have been filed against these two men. But an appeal for re-investigation of the Gulbarg Society massacre is pending with the Supreme Court and many of those indicted fear that they will be arrested. 92  

Father Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant, immediately alerted some senior police friends about the visitors. When the two men realized that Prakash had summoned the police, they left the office, but not before hurling abuse at Prakash and Setalvad and threatening “their end.”  About an hour later these two men were still standing outside shouting threats, now joined by a group of about ten young men demanding to meet Prakash and Setalvad and asking why the two of them were defaming Hindus.  Police officers then arrived and so the group left after shouting more slogans. 

According to Prakash, the police responded promptly because Prakash is an eminent citizen of Ahmedabad who has connections with senior police officers, and was able to contact the police commissioner directly.  But, as many activists pointed out to Human Rights Watch, others are not so fortunate, and uncertain about what will happen if someday they need to rely on the police—the same, un-reformed force that for the most part simply stood by and watched as the 2002 riots unfolded and innocent, defenseless Muslims were slaughtered. 

Prakash was later assured orally by friends in the police department that Dr. Vaidya and Bharat Teli had been warned, and would not attack him again. But no charges had been filed against these men as of August  30, 2004, even though Prakash had photographed them shouting outside the Prashant office and submitted the pictures to the police.

Setalvad, a prominent local activist and lawyer, has received many threats, but cannot rely on the local police to protect her.  For that reason, she is now protected by security forces under the central government instead of the Gujarat police.

4. Attack on volunteers of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD)

On April 11, 2004, about a dozen BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists attacked the volunteers of Youth Aman Karwan, a caravan for peace.  They were in Vadodara as part of a countrywide tour organized by ANHAD to promote communal harmony. The thirty- member delegation, all between the ages of fourteen and twenty, was led by Shabnam Hashmi, head of ANHAD, who has been involved in lobbying for the rights of those injured in the Gujarat violence. The students were addressing press conferences and meeting youth groups all over India, covering forty cities, towns and villages in one month.  According to Hashmi:

In Vadodara, during the press conferences, two journalists started heckling the students and calling them anti-national for maligning Gujarat. Then they raised slogans and left. When we came out of the hotel room, where the press conference was being held, approximately forty VHP goons immediately surrounded us, using extremely vulgar language and gestures, physically manhandling me, misbehaving with the girls, breaking our vehicles and looting material, beating up one participant called Manan and humiliating him.  Two vehicles with students were taken to the police station for safety. Many of the children had spent agonizing hours in the police station and were unable to contact me as I was still surrounded by the goons and later struggling with the police to file a report at the spot of the incident93

This program was a well-publicized event and activists point out that the police should have been aware that extremists might choose to attack the group in the present circumstances where there is such a strong feeling of communal hatred in Gujarat. They say that the police failed to provide adequate security in this case.  If the police were sufficiently interested in protecting Gujarat activists, an organized mob would not have been allowed to gather outside a hotel for a planned attack on peace activists. No charges had been filed in this case as of August 30, 2004, although there were several eyewitnesses to the attack.

5. Intimidation of Bilkis Yakub Rasool Patel and other witnesses

Because she pursued the prosecutions of the men who gang raped her and killed fourteen members of her family, Bilkis Yakub Rasool Patel has received numerous threats and had to constantly relocate her residence. 

On August 6, 2004, the trial of the accused became the second to be transferred out of Gujarat.  It is the only case of sexual violence where charges have been filed. Despite the transfer of the case, activists fear that attempts to bribe or intimidate witnesses will continue unless they are given adequate protection. Just physical protection, they say, is not enough. Witnesses are vulnerable, activists point out, because the Gujarat government has failed to adequately support several displaced Muslims, many of them key witnesses, who live in resettlement colonies without electricity, water or medical facilities.94

Farah Naqvi was a member of several fact-finding missions to Gujarat that investigated gender-based crimes during the Gujarat riots.  One team produced The Survivors Speak, the first report to document the scale and brutality of mass sexual violence against Muslim women during the riots.95  For the last two years, Naqvi, along with activist-lawyer Huma Khan and Delhi-based women’s rights activist Malini Ghose, has been helping riot victims with rehabilitation and in their pursuit of justice.  In particular, they have been working with Bilkis Yakub Rasool.  According to Naqvi:

We have been forced to relocate Bilkis at least  twenty times over the last two and a half years because of threats to her life and family. Threats have been received in various forms. One of these threats was made directly to Huma Khan when she was in Dahod court during one of the hearings. A man walked up to her and said: “You can take Bilkis wherever you want. How long will she hide? Eventually she will have to come here. Let our men be out on bail, then we will see where she hides from us.”  Khan complained to the Gujarat Director General of Police and copied her notice to the NHRC special rapporteur in Gujarat. There has been no action by the Gujarat police in this matter.96

Many of the witnesses in Bilkis’ case have also been threatened repeatedly, including during the re-investigation phase by the CBI.  One witness made a representation directly to the CBI about threats and offers of money that he had received.  His complaint has been included in the CBI investigations.  Despite the fact that the trial has been shifted to Mumbai, the witnesses continue to reside in Gujarat in extremely vulnerable circumstances, in a resettlement colony, and continue to be under threat.

[52] Private communications with journalist working for international media.

[53] “Crime and Complicity,” Frontline, June 4, 2004 (retrieved August 12, 2004).

[54] CBI is a federal investigative agency that handles cases of corruption and cases of interstate and other crimes of national importance. CBI inquiries are often demanded in cases where local or state investigations are perceived to be biased.

[55] “CBI backs Bilkis plea for trial outside Gujarat,” Press Trust of India, July 23, 2004.

[56] “Crime and Complicity,” Frontline, June 4, 2004 (retrieved August 12, 2004).

[57]‘”CBI Backs Bilkis Plea for Trial Outside Gujarat,” Press Trust of India, July 23, 2004

[58] “CBI Official Says Bilkis Accused Threatened Him,” Press Trust of India, April 27, 2004.

[59] See further discussion in Section B, “Intimidation of Bilkis Yakub Rasool and other witnesses.”

[60] Ritu Sarin, “Witnesses, Probe Teams Under Threat: NHRC Pointman,” The Indian Express, February 26, 2004, (retrieved August 12, 2004).

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhtar Muhammed, activist, Kalol, June 30, 2004.

[62] On September 24, 2004, two men attacked unarmed worshipers at the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat. At least twenty-eight people were killed and scores injured as attackers tossed grenades and opened fire with assault rifles. Indian security agencies claimed that the attack on the temple was planned by Pakistan-based militant groups with the support of some Gujarati Muslims to avenge the killings of Muslims during riots earlier in the year. Several Muslim groups joined other secular organizations in condemning the attack.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Mukhtar Muhammed, activist, Kalol, June 30, 2004

[64] Written statement by Father Cedric Prakash to the Police Inspector, Crime Cell, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, April 26, 2004.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Father Cedric Prakash, activist, Ahmedabad, August 19, 2004.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Digant Oza, journalist and activist, Ahmedabad, June 20, 2004.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Teesta Setalvad, Mumbai, August 13, 2004.

[68] See Hotline Asia Urgent Appeals, “Stop Harassment of Activists in Gujarat,”

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakia Jowher of Aman Samudaya, Ahmedabad, June 19, 2004.

[70] Letter from Father Cedric Prakash, Director, Prashant, A Center for Human Rights, Justice and Peace to Justice A.S. Anand, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission, June 10, 2004.

[71] Public interest litigations can be filed by individuals or civil rights groups before the Supreme Court to take up matters of national interest.

[72] Hindol Sengupta, “Mallika Sarabhai Celebrates Gujarat Judgement,” Indo-Asian News Service, August 18, 2004.

[73]  “Court Removes curbs on Mallika Sarabhai,” The Times of India, February 20, 2004, (retrieved August 25, 2004).

[74] Human Rights Interview with Mallika Sarabhai, Ahmedabad, August 25, 2004.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Mallika Sarabhai, private letter to friends and supporters, January 4, 2004.

[77] HRW interview with Mallika Sarabhai, Ahmedabad, July 8, 2004.

[78] Abhishek Kapoor, “Riots: Kalol Witness Faces Threats,” The Indian Express, August 10, 2004, pp. 4.

[79] Anand Biria, “Witness To Riot Framed For Silence,” The Asian Age, August 21, 2004, pp. 1.

[80] Special leave Petition, 2003, NHRC v. State of Gujarat and Others.

[81] See Section I, Teesta Setalvad’s testimony.

[82] “PUCL-Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan Withdraw from the Nanavati-Shah Commission Hearings” June 18, 2003, (retrieved August 24, 2004).

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Father Cedric Prakash, Ahmedabad, August 19, 2004.

[84] “Activist gets Threat Call in Viramgram,” The Times of India, November 11, 2003, (retrieved August 21, 2004).

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Rais Khan Azeezkhan Pathan, activist, Ahmedabad, June 11, 2004.

[86] Human Rights Watch Interview with Teesta Setalvad, Mumbai, August 13, 2004.

[87] See testimony below. “Threats Against Teesta Setalvad and Father Cedric Prakash.

[88] Digant Oza, “Who Cares For Supreme Court in Gandhi’s Gujarat?” Indiathinkersnet, April 17, 2004 (retrieved August 21, 2004).

[89] HRW interview with Suhel Tirmizi, lawyer, Ahmedabad, on June 21, 2004.

[90] Human Rights interview with Trupti Shah, activist, Vadodara, August 20, 2004.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with Trupti Shah, activist, Vadodara,  August 15, 2004.

[92] See Human Rights Watch report We Have No Orders to Save You, April 2002, pp. 18.  Over 250 people had taken shelter on Feb 28, 2002 in the home of Ehsan Jafri, a former member of parliament.  For seven hours, even as Jafri made countless phone calls to the police, the Chief Minister and the central home minister among others, a mob first stoned his housing complex where he lived and eventually attacked the Muslims sheltering there, killing people with swords or burning them alive.  At least sixty-five people including Jafri were killed.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with Shabnam Hasmhi, activist, New Delhi, July 5, 2004.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with Farah Naqvi, activist, New Delhi, August 18, 2004. Also see Harsh Mander, “Gujarat’s Victims Completely Isolated,” Times of India, November 23, 2003, (retrieved August 18, 2004).

[95] The Survivors Speak was released on April 16, 2002.  Two later reports, Survivors Speak Part II, and a report by the International Initiative for Justice, also focused on gender-based crimes during the riots.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Farah Naqvi, activist, New Delhi, August 18, 2004.

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