Quest for justice

Quest for justice


Quest for justice

Zakia Jafri continues to fight for justice for her husband who was murdered in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom mob, informs Humra Quraishi.

Zakia Jafri has come to symbolise the unfinished quest for justice in Chief Minister Modi’s Gujarat after Zakia’s husband, Ahsan Jafri - trade unionist, senior Congress Party politician, writer and poet – was brutally murdered by a riotous mob during the riots that tore through the state in 2002.

The intervening years have seen Zakia, 73, get transformed from a home-maker to a public figure. Despite her age, she addresses media conferences and protest meetings; today, she is familiar with court procedures having filed many petitions. In April 2013, she was in Delhi to file a Protest Petition demanding a fresh investigation into her husband’s death “to get a fair and transparent investigation against a chief minister, cabinet colleagues, senior administrators and policemen and front men and women of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal…”

She addressed a group of people on May 7 in Delhi and her eyes expressed her pain. Even if she had not uttered a word, her eyes somehow conveyed the trauma she had suffered on the day in 2002 when her husband was murdered by goons. Zakia married Ahsan Jafri when she was 18. Decades later, she was to witness his murder conducted in the most savage way.

She began her interaction with the words ‘As-salaam–alaikum’ (peace be on you), and narrated in detail the pogrom that ruined not just her life but that of thousands of others – perhaps for generations to come.

Life for the Jafris had had its share of tensions even before the 2002 carnage. In 1969, they had to leave their home in Ahmedabad because of a riot. Later, they shifted to Gulberg Society, which was then a brand new residential colony.

Remarks Zakia, “Horrifying as those riots were, they were nothing when compared to 2002. About 80 per cent of Muslim families returned to their original homes after those riots but after the 2002 carnage, there was permanent dislocation on a mass scale.”

In fact, Gujarat witnessed rioting right through the Eighties. Ahsan Jafri, because of his Congress affiliations, was often the subject of slogans and personal attacks. But he remained firm about not moving out of Gulberg Society, even though many Muslim families had begun to leave the neighbourhood. According to Zakia, there was a perceptible rise in anti-Muslim feelings through the Nineties, and even a small skirmish between Hindus and Muslims could result in large scale rioting.

But of all the memories she holds, nothing in terms of terror can measure up to the events of February 28, 2002, when the Gulberg Society in which the family had been staying since 1969 was torched and killings broke out. Says Zakia, “Early morning, on February 28, neighbours started pouring into our home and kept asking for my husband.

They felt and looked noticeably relaxed once they saw him. By 9 AM, it was apparent that tension was building up in our area – a few shops and vehicles had already been looted and burnt. The situation was getting out of hand but the police commissioner, even though he was in the vicinity, did not visit Gulberg Society until late in the evening.”

By then, according to Zakia, Gulberg Society was completely burnt down and looted, with a majority of its residents – 69 in all – either killed or burnt alive. When the police arrived late in the evening the genocide was nearly complete.

But what has given this 73-year-old woman the grit and determination to carry on fighting for over a decade now? Zakia’s answer was simple. “It is to get justice – not just for myself but for the thousands who were killed in the most brutal manner on February 28, 2002.” The scenes come back to her. Rioters stripping the clothes off of women’s bodies and brutalising them. The bodies lying everywhere. But there is one abiding memory she has – that of her husband fighting valiantly until the very end.

There were those who stood by her in her long quest for justice, including many Hindus. “First of all, as an individual and resident of Gulberg Society, I am totally indebted to my neighbours – some of them were victims, too. As witnesses they have stood firm and have not changed their version of the events after all these years. Then there are senior police officers of the Gujarat cadre, activists and advocates. There is an entire team that has been fighting my case. How can I thank them enough?”

Zakia Jafri’s quest for justice that began in 2002 carries on. She lives in the hope that she will get it one day.