Dateline investigates the extraordinary case of the bloody Gujarat riots, and why the perpetrators are still free.
Airdate: 
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - 07:18
Channel: 
SBS One

Video journalist Amos Roberts investigates the extraordinary case of the bloody Gujarat riots, and why the perpetrators are still free.

A few months ago, Indian news organisation Tehelka broke what should have been one of the biggest stories in the history of Indian journalism.

A Tehelka journalist went undercover and secretly recorded mass murderers not just confessing, but also boasting of their crimes. Even more alarmingly, the recordings implicated high-level officials.

The crimes occurred during the 2002 riots in Gujarat, which pitted Hindu against Muslim. The riots began when 57 Hindus sitting on a train were burnt to death by a Muslim mob. Over the next three days, Hindus went on a killing spree, murdering Muslims as revenge.

"œThere was this pregnant woman, I slit her open, sisterf***er, showed them what's what. What kind of revenge we can take if our people are killed," is an example of one of the confessions to the Tehelka journalist.

Since the story aired in October last year, almost none of the perpetrators have faced trial.

Victims and human rights groups claim that those who have faced trial have been given favourable treatment by police, prosecutors, even judges.

In one example, an alleged perpetrator was given three judges, before he got one that allowed him to go free on bail.

"œOne would imagine that if one went on television and declared that one had murdered one's neighbour, that within two hours the police would be knocking on your door," Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal tells Roberts.

"œHere we're talking about mass murderers who are on camera on national television, probably for the first time in the history of the media, actually telling you how they killed, where they killed, why they killed and nothing happens."

Now, human rights groups are demanding that the remaining trials be moved out of Gujarat, a state that leaves its Muslim population feeling persecuted and terrified.

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Transcript

Gujarat in India - it might be the home state of Mahatma Gandhi, that Indian champion of non-violent resistance, but more recently Gujarat's gained an altogether more brutal reputation. Although Gandhi devoted his life to keeping India's Hindus and Muslims from each other's throats, back in 2002, hundreds of Muslims were killed by Hindu mobs in Gujarat. Five years later practically none of the perpetrators have been convicted. Of late, however, startling new evidence has been unearthed implicating Gujarat's police, its legal system and even its Chief Minister. Here's Amos Roberts with a nasty tale of death, infiltrators, cover-up and, it has to be said, brave journalism.

REPORTER: Amos Roberts

INDIAN JOURNALIST: Before we begin a stark warning. What we will show you today is simply horrifying, it's a story of savage mass murder, rape, and gruesome torture.

A few months ago this special broadcast broke what should have been one of the biggest stories in the history of Indian journalism.

MAN ON SPYCAM (Translation): What happened was the people who've been in our sights for the past 20 to 25 years, we selectively killed those people.

Grainy footage of mass murderers not just confessing but boasting of their crimes.

BABU BAJRANGI ON SPYCAM (Translation): There was this pregnant woman. I slit her open. We showed them what's what.

The story didn't just expose the killers but also the men who'd organised and covered up the crimes.

ANIL PATEL, SYPCAM (Translation): That's when I decided, whatever had to be done, I would take responsibility. So just lock the door. Lock it from outside and burn the whole family. And whatever happens next, we'll deal with it.

But several months later, the journalists behind the expose and the victims of the crimes they were investigating are disillusioned.

ASHISH KHETAN, UNDERCOVER REPORTER: There was some public outrage, there was some public anger, but I would say yes, nothing has happened.

MRS JAFFRI (Translation): They admitted what they did but still no action was taken. Why hasn't the government done anything?

TARUN TEJPAL, EDITOR, TEHELKA: This is a test case, you know, in Indian democracy. If you cannot deliver justice on the killings of 2,000 people, we are in trouble.

To unravel this complex, sordid story, I've come to the Indian state of Gujarat. Today's the festival of Uttarayan, which marks the end of the winter solstice. And this is how hundreds of thousands of people celebrate in Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad. The kite strings are coated with powdered glass, and the aim is to cut down other people's kites.

REPORTER: Did you cut someone down?

BOY (Translation): Yes, I cut lots of kites. This string is very good for me.

This is all good fun, but six years ago the Hindus of Gujarat were literally cutting down their Muslim neighbours. In February 2002, here in the suburb of Naroda Patiya, a mob armed with lethal weapons went on a 10-hour killing spree. For Fatima Mohammed Yusuf and her family, life would never be the same.

FATIMA MOHAMMED YUSUF (Translation): We closed the door and we went to the roof with all of the kids. From the roof we saw a lot of people. We didn't know what to do, whether to take money and jewellery. I'd never seen anything like this before.

A Hindu neighbour sheltered the family for much of the day, but then asked them to leave. The police were outside and Fatima begged them for help.

FATIMA MOHAMMED YUSUF (Translation): They said, "We haven't been ordered to spare your lives. Our orders are to kill you." They clearly said to us, "Sister here's the newspaper from Godhra. See what happened there that's why we're doing this to you."

This is what had happened in the town of Godhra the morning before. A train full of Hindu pilgrims was attacked by a Muslim mob after an argument at the train station. 59 people died when a fire broke out in an overcrowded carriage. The cause of the fire was unclear, but by nightfall Hindus had begun to retaliate.

FATIMA MOHAMMED YUSUF (Translation): And then they attacked with such cruelty, with swords. My sister fell to the ground. She was smaller than me. She was hit with a sword and couldn't get up. My sister had some money and said, "Brothers, take it, don't kill my children. Let them go." They took the money and threw it away. They cut her several times with a sword. They cut the young kids to pieces.

Many of the bodies were burned and then dumped in this well. Along with her sister, Fatima lost 19 members of her family. No-one has ever been convicted of the killings. According to the Gujarati Government, 105 people were killed around Naroda Patiya, but the killers themselves say the real figure was at least twice that.

JOURNALIST (Translation): So you knifed women?

BABU BAJRANGI ON SPYCAM (Translation): We didn't spare anyone. I say it even today.

JOURNALIST (Translation): Women and children?

BABU BAJRANGI ON SPYCAM (Translation): Yes, everyone. Kill, chop and burn them.

This is Babu Bajrangi, the man who led the mob. His remarkable confession was secretly recorded by an undercover reporter from Tehelka, a weekly news magazine.

JOURNALIST (Translation): How do you feel killing Muslims?

BABU BAJRANGI ON SPYCAM (Translation): I enjoy it. I killed one, came home and slept.

ASHISH KHETAN: Each and every thing he said, each and every thing he did while I was with him, it was always targeted against Muslims, against anything which he believed was anti-Hindu, and, I mean, his love for Hinduism flowed out of his hatred for Muslims, for Christians. It was unbelievable.

This the recorder and this is the memory chip on which the recording is saved. And the diary has a minute hole, this one, this is the lens of this diary. It is very difficult to figure it out with the naked eye.

Ashish Khetan risked his life to find out who was behind the 2002 riots and doesn't want to blow his cover now.

ASHISH KHETAN: The other spycam I was using in Gujarat was a button spycam.

Armed with two hidden cameras, he spent six months last year posing as a young Hindu fundamentalist by the name of Piyush Agerwaal. He infiltrated a network of fanatical Hindu organisations, winning the confidence of their leaders as well as their foot soldiers.

ASHISH KHETAN: So there was a sense of pride and a sense of achievement in what they did in 2002, and they wanted to tell about that. This was something which they always talked about in their own inner circles. And once I was part of that circle they opened up to me as well.

The violence raged for three days until the army was called in. The government claimed the massacres were a spontaneous response to the killing of the 59 Hindus on the train at Godhra. But Hindu leaders told Ashish Khetan their revenge was carefully mapped out at special meetings.

DHIMANT BHATT ON SPYCAM (Translation): We sat all night to choose a panel of lawyers. We planned. If a Hindu or an injured person goes to a public hospital, how are we to help? We made a complete plan, almost a jihad. It's as if we began a Hindu jihad. And in that we succeeded in Gujarat.

RAJENDRA VYAS ON SPYCAM (Translation): The Muslims have played a one-day match with us. You know one-dayers? They set us a target of 60 runs. We must win this match at all costs, we can't stop until we make 600 runs. And that's how I put it.

Across the state, Muslim neighbourhoods were looted and burnt. In the end, the final death toll may have passed 2,000.

These are the charred remains of Gulbarg a housing society that was home to a former member of parliament, Ehsan Jaffri. For over five hours Jaffri and his wife were besieged here, along with many other families who had sought refuge from neighbouring slums. But despite a constant stream of frantic phone calls to the police, political allies in the Congress Party and even the office of the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Jaffri was abandoned to a shocking and gruesome fate.

MRS JAFFRI (Translation): What are you saying to granddad?

GRANDDAUGHTER (Translation): I'm just hugging him.

Ehsan Jaffri's widow, Zakia, says that when some of the women sheltering at the housing society were raped, her husband pleaded with the mob to stop.

ZAKIA JAFFRI (Translation): He said to them, "What do you want? Tell me what you want. Please don't do this." He'd never begged anyone before but then he said, "I beg you. I'll give you as much money as you want but leave these little girls alone." Then he gave them the money. He opened the door and gave them the money and they grabbed him and pulled him by the hand.

They took him out to the courtyard, they took off all his clothes and they beat him up. I could see all this from the balcony above. I couldn't go downstairs because of the crowd. Then they chopped off his hands and legs. And then cut his throat.

JOURNALIST (Translation): That morning, how did you kill Jaffri ?

MADAN CHAWAL ON SPYCAM (Translation): They caught him, I kicked him in the back and they dragged him away.

This is Madan Chawal admitting he was part of the mob that killed Ehsan Jaffri.

MADAN CHAWAL ON SPYCAM (Translation): He was made to stand by five or six people. Then someone cut off his arms with a sword. Then his legs. Then they cut him into pieces and burned him.

When Tehelka's footage was broadcast last October, Zakia Jaffri watched as her husband's killers described his death.

ZAKIA JAFFRI (Translation): And we were sitting here watching all that and crying. We were all distraught and in front of us were these angels of death. I could see them in front of us. All the young kids were sitting and crying. And people were calling us asking, "Are you watching Tehelka?" Can you imagine what we were thinking? I don't have any words to describe it.

What's made it even more painful is the knowledge that her husband's killers are still free and that Gujarat's police force appeared to be on their side.

JOURNALIST (Translation): After the Gulbarg incident how did the police behave?

PRAHLAD RAJU ON SPYCAM (Translation): The police just stood on the side.

JOURNALIST (Translation): And let you continue?

PRAHLAD RAJU ON SPYCAM (Translation): They didn't arrest or hit anyone on the day.

Victims and human rights groups have long suspected the authorities of being involved in the riots. Many of the people Tehelka filmed confirm that police, politicians, lawyers and even judges took part in planning and executing the massacres and then covering them up afterwards. Ashish Khetan says they all belong to the right-wing Hindu groups that control this state.

ASHISH KHETAN: Every institution of the Gujarati society, every institution, be it the judiciary, be it the police, every facet, every part of the Gujarati society, they have been successful in spreading their tentacles into.

According to Tehelka, the 'tentacles' of Hindu extremist groups reach right to the top, to the office of Gujarat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi. Modi is from the right-wing Hindu party, the BJP, which has often been accused of stirring up anti-Muslim feeling. Haresh Bhatt is a member of the Legislative Assembly in Narendra Modi's government. He was one of the most senior people caught on tape by Tehelka's undercover reporter. He says that after the Hindu pilgrims were attacked at Godhra, he attended a meeting with the Chief Minister.

JOURNALIST (Translation): Tell us, what was his reaction?

HARESH BHATT, MEMBER OF MODI GOVERNMENT, ON SPYCAM (Translation): It was favourable, but we can't make this statement. Whatever he's done, I think no chief minister has done before.

JOURNALIST (Translation): I won't quote you anywhere about this.

HARESH BHATT ON SPYCAM (Translation): He had given us three days. "Do what you like. After three days I'll stop it all." He said this openly. After three days he said stop, and it all stopped.

Self-confessed murderer Babu Bajrangi says that when he was arrested several months after the massacre, it was Narendra Modi who got him out of jail by changing the judges.

BABU BAJRANGI ON SPYCAM (Translation): The first judge who came said, "Bajrangi should be hanged not once but four or five times." He threw away the file. The next judge said the same, that I should be hanged. With the third one, over four months later, Brother Narendra sent me a message saying he'd set something up. The third judge didn't even look at the file. He just said, "Let him go."

I decided to try and find Babu Bajrangi. I wanted to know what he thought about his explosive confessions being made public. I've been told he usually holds court at an office not far from where the worst massacre took place. My translator says everyone here is afraid of Bajrangi, so I try to film without being noticed.

TRANSLATOR (Translation): He's from SBS Television. We've been given Babu Bajrangi's office address. He's not here?

MAN (Translation): It's closed now.

TRANSLATOR (Translation): Is it hard to find him now? Where would I find him?

MAN (Translation): I don't know anything about him. It's been closed for about a month now.

Having been tricked into making his remarkable confession, Bajrangi is now keeping a low profile.

CHANDAN MITRA, EDITOR, THE PIONEER: I think that the so-called confessions were exaggerated.

Chandan Mitra is a BJP-aligned politician and the editor of a conservative newspaper. He accuses Tehelka of trying to undermine the BJP government in Gujarat, and says the secretly-recorded interviews have no credibility.

REPORTER: You're not concerned by any of the things that they said?

CHANDAN MITRA: No, I don't take the evidence as of not worth the footage it's been filmed on.

REPORTER: Former MPs, the government counsel to the inquiry, police, not worth, not worth anything?

CHANDAN MITRA: Just one or two people, even if they have said something, I don't think that forms a basis of something which is as big as the Gujarat riot. You cannot convince people or convict people or condemn them or make up your minds about them on the basis of just one or two people.

REPORTER: Why are you so convinced that Modi was not involved?

CHANDAN MITRA: Nothing has come of it, no evidence, not a shred of evidence. Why should I be convinced he's guilty?

ASHISH KHETAN: I will only go by the evidence that I have managed to bring on record. I have absolutely no doubt that Modi was the invisible hand behind the massacre.

Less than two months after the Tehelka expose, Gujarat held state elections. The BJP focused its entire campaign on Modi. This cult of personality is fuelled by his reputation as a strong leader who's responsible for Gujarat's booming economy. In the heat of the campaign, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi used the Tehelka expose to publicly condemn Modi.

SONIA GANDHI, CONGRESS PARTY LEADER (Translation): The truth is the people running the Gujarat government are liars, cheats and merchants of death.

In turn, Modi accused the Congress Party of being soft on Islamic terrorism.

NARENDRA MODI, HINDU PARTY (Translation): Dear Sonia, the people of Gujarat know who the real merchants of death are. The real supporters of these merchants of death. All Hindustans know who they are.

Many people hoped that with all the evidence of his government's involvement in the 2002 riots, there would be a backlash against Modi at the ballot box. But they were wrong. Modi was soon sworn in for his third term as Chief Minister after the BJP won a landslide victory.

REPORTER: What did you hope would happen as a result of your six month long investigation?

ASHISH KHETAN: I was hoping that the entire country would sit up and take notice of it. I hoped that there would be a separate public commission constituted to just look into the tapes and into the revelations made in the tapes. This is what I had hoped.

TARUN TEJPAL: One would imagine that if one went on television and declared that one had murdered one's neighbour, that within two hours the police would be knocking on your door. And he said we're talking about mass murderers who are on camera on national television, probably for the first time in the history of the media, actually telling you how they killed, where they killed, why they killed, and nothing happens.

Modi's victory has turned him into an important figure on the national political stage. His supporters don't care that he has been denied a visa to the US on the grounds that he violated "religious freedom".

CHANDAN MITRA: I have no doubt that some day the White House will roll out the red carpet for Narendra Modi to be there.

REPORTER: Why do you say that?

CHANDAN MITRA: Because I hope to see him as prime minister of this country one day.

I requested an interview with Modi but never received a reply. I also approached the Gujarat Police Chief and the former minister for law and justice, but no-one wanted to speak.

REPORTER: With Modi's re-election, is the story over?

TARUN TEJPAL: You know, I don't think the story's over. I think eventually what we reveal will have to be acted upon. How long it takes remains to be seen.

Six years after the riots, Gujarat's Muslims are still praying for justice, but they've lost all faith in the state of Gujarat to deliver it. However calm things may appear on the surface, they feel that at any time their neighbours, and even their government, could turn against them. Despite seeing her sister's family hacked down by a Hindu mob, when Fatima was offered police protection a few months later, she turned it down.

FATIMA MOHAMMED YUSUF (Translation): I said, "When the riots happened in 2002 you were there." I held his khaki uniform. "I came to you begging then and what did you say? That you didn't have orders to protect me. How can I trust you? You might get more orders to kill me. Then will you shoot me or not?" I don't trust anyone in khaki uniform.

"The government's yours, so are the police. Everything. We have no one but Allah."

Reporter/Camera
AMOS ROBERTS

Editors
WAYNE LOVE
DAVID POTTS

Fixer
PRAKASH HATVALNE
ANNIE MATHEWS

Producer
AARON THOMAS

Subtitling
RAJISH ARYAL

Translations
KUMUD MERANI
NITAL DESAI

Additional footage courtesy of Aaj Tak

Original Music composed by
VICKI HANSEN