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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Gujarat and the judges' anger

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC correspondent in Delhi

News Online examines why India's Supreme Court has launched a blistering attack on the authorities in the state of Gujarat.

Last year's communal riots in India's Gujarat state are viewed by many as a serious challenge to the country's record in protecting its minorities.
Riot in Ahmedabad last year
The riots have traumatised many

They have left many Indian Muslims, the largest minority group in the country, feeling deeply insecure.

More than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in riots sparked off by a fire on a train carrying Hindu activists.

A Muslim mob is alleged to have led the attack in the town of Godhra, in which 59 Hindus were burned alive.

But in the retaliatory violence that followed, the focus quickly shifted to the state's large Muslim minority.

Muslim businesses and homes were razed and mobs brutally killed men, women and children.

Muslim places of worship were desecrated.

In the aftermath of the riots, independent observers and human rights groups accused the Gujarat Government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of turning a blind eye to the riots.

The police were alleged to have simply refused to intervene or, in many cases, arrived too late to prevent the violence.

Now, more than a year later, the Gujarat Government is being accused of doing little to bring the rioters to justice.

Little interest?

In July, the US-based group Human Rights Watch said that more than 100 Muslims had been charged with involvement in the alleged attack on the train at Godhra.

In contrast, no Hindus have been charged over the violence against the Muslims.

Zahira Sheikh
Zahira Sheikh said she feared for her life in court

Suspicion that the Gujarat state government had little interest in ensuring justice for the Muslim victims was strengthened when 21 Hindus were acquitted in what has come to be known as the Best Bakery case.

One of several riot cases in Gujarat after the Godhra attack, it refers to the attack on a bakery in the city of Baroda in which 12 Muslims were killed, many of them burned alive.

The case fell apart when 45 of the 71 witnesses who were to testify changed their minds about giving evidence.

Some of the witnesses, including a teenage woman, Zahira Sheikh, later said they had been intimidated and threatened into changing their statements in court.

Analysts see the Best Bakery case as representative of the fears and apprehensions of the Muslim riot victims.

India's National Human Rights Commission described it as a "miscarriage of justice" and, along with other petitioners, argued that five riot cases - including the Best Bakery case - be investigated by an independent agency.

They also asked for the cases to be tried outside Gujarat.

Now it appears their views are shared by India's Supreme Court, which has expressed its displeasure at the government's handling of the case.


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