By Maxwell Pereira
Disgusting… ! Revolting…
These and many more are the reactions that flood the mind, just
thinking about the Zaheera Sheik saga. Despite a committed top
judiciary, one wonders, is the Indian justice administration system
being taken for a ride? …has it ever before been dashed
to such abysmal depths?!!!
Is it mere justice thwarted here?
And is it truth or money that stands flaunted? ….or the
machinations of the powerful, the cunning - the vested 'private'
or 'State' interests that leave no stone unturned to subvert the
due process of law? Does the unfolding drama and the developments
reflect the utter miserable state of affairs also at and with
our country's highest justice dispensing outfits in doing their
job of meting out due justice? Is there no sanctity left, or any
respect for the proverbial long arm of the law?
The Gujarat riots… arson
in the train …the burning and roasting alive of returning
kar-sevaks and others… and the carnage that followed…
Godhra and Vadodara - names of ignominy indelibly implanted in
one's memory for reasons none other than the grisly horror they
The night of March 1, 2002: The
nightmare at Best Bakery - just one of innumerable such nightmares
- the gathering mob outside, setting the building afire….
terror stricken 25 inmates trying to hide …of those who
could not make it to the terrace, four children and three women
asphyxiated inside rooms they had locked themselves in, as the
building burnt …the ones on the rooftop with feet singed,
hiding behind the parapet invoking heavenly intervention. Five
more, chased and killed even as daylight breaks and they try escape.
Among the survivors, the star
FIR eye-witness Zaheera, daughter of late bakery owner Habibullah
Sheik, attractive with her rustic beauty, schoolgirl plaits and
innocent doe eyes, later catapulted to being the instantly identifiable
face of the grisly tragedy and the Godhra aftermath….
Despite the magnitude of the tragedy
that struck her and the surviving members of her family, Zaheera
turns hostile in the Vadodara court during trial, resiles from
her testimony recorded earlier by the police, changes it so the
court delivers a verdict of 'not guilty' setting free the so called
criminals accused of the carnage.
Step in the do-gooders and the
NGOs, mainly 'Citizens for Justice and Peace' led by Teesta Setalvad,
to learn Zaheera had lied out of fear - due to threats received,
she claimed. Her 'lie' had led to the acquittal of all the 21
accused. Zaheera names BJP MLA Madhu Srivastav and Chandrakant,
among others, as responsible for the threats. Also alleges, the
Government lawyer and police were non-cooperative, they were hand
in glove with these criminals… She had feared for her family's
Setalvad gets Zaheera to file
an affidavit to this effect in the highest court, seeking retrial.
The apex court in a confidence restoring display of proactive
intervention, is constrained to
pull up the prosecution in Gujarat
and to direct a retrial to be held in Maharashtra, away from any
influence. The drama rages on with a changed theatrical arena.
The re-trial is on in Mumbai,
with every indication of the truth at last seeing the light of
day. But from out of the blue on 3rd November, Zaheera stuns everyone
with yet another volte face. In a press interview a day before
her deposition at the retrial, she tells all that what had happened
in the initial trial at the Vadodara court, and its verdict declaring
the accused innocent, were all true - the correct position; that
her subsequent affidavit before the Supreme Court was the result
of pressure from Setalvad. The Commissioner of Police Baroda responds
to media queries with a non-committal "she has given a fresh
affidavit, which has to be examined!" The hitherto face-blackened
and battle-scarred on this score, Narender Modi, breaks his long
silence, speaking of the need for a probe into NGO affairs.
Zaheera and her brother do not
appear on the appointed date and time for their deposition at
the retrial, and she is reportedly being secured at an undisclosed
place back in her state - courtesy who, no one knows.
"Who arranged for the press
conference in which Zaheera retracted her statement? …and
what was the Baroda police commissioner doing when the prime witness
in the Bakery case was turning hostile?" asks Setalvad; and
I agree with her! These questions need to be answered. She also
refutes the allegations levelled against her, and seeks Supreme
Court direction for CBI to probe into the circumstances of Zaheera's
"This latest twist is not
out of fear, it is for money. She has been paid off," is
the general feeling being voiced by many. "…she is
just another moolah-grabbing opportunist willing to change her
deposition to the highest bidder" some others add.
as the NGO feels the retrial is progressing well and conviction
of many could still be a reality, Zaheera's volte face is a slap
in the face not only to Setalvad and her crusading NGO, but also
to the justice administration system that appears impotent to
act against blatant indulgence in perjury; willy-nilly or wantonly.
An apt case and situation to be wringing one's hands in desperation
words: 09.11.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and email@example.com
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