Women witnesses of Gujarat riots narrate harrowing experiences

She had at least hoped for a woman lawyer in a court of justice, but was not given one.
Similar is the case of Jannatbi Kalubhai Sheikh who witnessed the murder of a nine-month pregnant woman, Kauserbano, during the violence. Jannatbi, who is also testifying in cases related to the rape of four other women, finds the going tough in Gujarat courts.

She says government lawyers keep pressing her to change her statement. "When we went to the court,  the public prosecutor asked me to say certain things, but I refused. He kept pressing us to change our statement," said Jannatbi."Despite pressure, we testified the truth. He said what we were saying was wrong," she recalled.

These experiences of women witnesses in the Gujarat riots cases have been documented in a report on the survivors of the 2002 carnage, which claimed at least 1,000 lives, most of them Muslim. It was released here on Tuesday by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat.

The report was prepared by Ahmedabad-based NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). It was given to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

According to the report, women, who are crucial witnesses to the massacre, face problems in courts, ranging from unavailability of women lawyers to uncomfortable comments from lawyers and judges.

According to CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad, in many cases a lawyer who earlier appeared as a defence lawyer for an accused was made the public prosecutor.
"At times, the same person who was previously the defence lawyer was made the public prosecutor. How can justice be given in such a situation?" Setalvad asked.

"Independent lawyers have not been appointed as prosecutors," she added.
Apart from the problems faced in courts, the victims also face constant threats from the accused who are roaming free, she said.

Shakeela Bano, a survivor of the Naroda Patiya massacre in Ahmedabad, still lives in the same area where she saw her near and dear ones being killed. "We are living here because we want justice," she said."We get threats day and night. Those people live in the same locality as we do," Shakeela said.

"We cannot step out after 8 p.m.; we close all doors and windows and put locks fearing a bomb or bullet attack," she said.

Shakeela saw eight family members, including her three-month-old nephew, being burnt alive in the massacre. She, however, continues living in Naroda Patiya, hoping for justice.
"They killed eight; if they kill one more, how would it matter? We want justice," she said.
The report gives detailed information of the problems being faced by witnesses in the Gujarat riots cases.

"Women eyewitnesses and survivors of the Gujarat massacre are being forced to depose in trial courts in a hostile environment without formal legal representation. This is a denial of their basic human rights," Setalvad alleged.

The report, which focuses on the struggle of nearly 97 women eyewitnesses, even speaks of judges and lawyers being hostile to the victims.The victims say justice cannot be done unless their cases are moved to courts outside Gujarat, the report said.
As Jannatbi said: "We want our cases to be moved out of Gujarat; we cannot get justice here."

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