Perhaps no other incident has changed Gujarat's history like the burning of the
Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, has done. It was just another
quiet morning in the town until the train arrived full of kar sevaks, resulting
in an altercation on the platform and the burning of the S-6 coach which led to
the killing of 59 people, mainly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. The
resulting riots changed Gujarat's social fabric forever.
In all, 134 people were accused of the Godhra carnage of which 94 were tried by
the sessions court in Godhra. However, even 10 years after the carnage, at
least 15 people have still not been arrested and are absconding. As many as 254
witnesses were examined and 268 witnesses dropped.
After a long legal battle, on March 1, 2011, a special court gave the death
penalty to 11 people and life terms to 20 for burning the S-6coach on that
fateful day. This decision of the trial court will be effected only after
Gujarat high court confirms it. Calling the Godhra killings "rarest of rare
incidents", Godhra sessions judge P R Patel had pronounced death by hanging for
11, including key conspirators Abdul Razak Kurkur and Bilal Ismail alias Haji
Jabir Binyamin Behra, whose confession before the magistrate gave out the whole
conspiracy, also got death. The court had earlier let off Maulvi Husain Umarji
who, Behra had said, was the mastermind of the train burning plot. The court
found all of them guilty of being actively involved in stocking petrol and
burning the S-6 coach to kill the kar sevaks. The motive of the murders was
"anger against the kar sevaks", the court had said earlier while pronouncing
the verdict on February 22, 2011.
None of the 31 convicts expressed emotion as the sessions judge read out the
sentences. Those present in the Sabarmati jail courtroom said there was neither
relief on the faces of the 20 who got life imprisonment nor shock. All the
convicts had a uniformly stoic expression as the judge read out one name after
How it all happened
The Sabarmati Express arrived at 7.43am at the Godhra railway station on
February 27, 2002, 4 hours late. Some kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya got
down for refreshments and began shouting 'Jai Sri Ram'. In the 5-minute halt,
there was a fight and kar sevaks beat up a tea vendor, Siddiq Bakkar, and
autorickshaw driver Siraj. They beat up another vendor Mohammed Latika because
he refused to say 'Jai Sri Ram' with them.
One of the kar sevaks tried molesting a Muslim girl, says the charge sheet.
Salim Panwala spread the word about the molestation and collected a crowd.
Mehbub Latiko joined in and began calling people. Scared, the kar sevaks downed
the window shutters and locked the coach doors.
The mob threw stones at the train from behind the parcel office and broke many
window panes. After sometime, the train started and stopped again. It is not
clear whether the 3 vendors inside the train pulled the chain as the police
charge sheet says, or kar sevaks pulled the chain to get in the passengers left
Hasan Charkha, Yunus Ghadiyali, Latiko and Jabir Behra rushed to Razak Kurkur's
house in Signal Falia to fetch petrol. This group had met at room no 8 of
Kurkur's Aman Guest House to plot the attack on S-6 coach of the Sabarmati
Ramjani Behra, a tea vendor on the platform, brought the petrol in his vehicle
to A cabin and with the rest and tried to pour it in from broken windows.
Saukat Charkha and Imran Bhatuk who are absconding, went to A cabin where the
train stopped. Panwala and Kurkur joined in and first reached S-2 coach. Mehbub
Popa, Ghadiyali and others tried to set this coach on fire. Then they went to
S-6. Latiko cut open the canvas of the vestibule connecting S-6 and S-7. Latiko
forced open the sliding door and got in with Jabir and the petrol cans. Saukat
Charkha, Rafiq Bhatuk, Irfan Bhopo and Imran Bhatuk joined them and poured the
Hasan Charka threw a burning rag and set the coach ablaze killing 58 people.
One of the passengers died later.
Total accused - 134
Trial against - 94
Conviction - 31
Death penalty - 11
Acquitted - 63
Person facing trial - 1
Absconders - 15
Deceased accused - 6
Juvenile accused - 5
Charge-sheeted - 19
Confessions - 14 (9 under 164, 5 under Pota)
Discharged accused - 13
Witnesses examined - 254
Witnesses dropped - 268
(source: The Times of INdia)