Preliminary findings of the Fact Finding Team released in the Press Conference on 19th Sept, 2011
This preliminary report of the PUCL team pertains to the incident of the police firing in Gopalgarh, district Bharatpur, Rajasthan. As per the media reports, the police resorted to firing to quell rioting mobs. The government has acknowledged eight deaths and 23 injured in this incident. Following this, the PUCL, Rajasthan constituted a Fact Finding Team to conduct independent inquiry into this incident. The team comprised Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, PUCL, Professor Shail Mayaram (Delhi), Professor Yogendra Yadav (Delhi), Ms. Nishat Hussain (Vice President, PUCL, Rajasthan), Mr. Sawai Singh (Organising Secretary PUCL, Rajasthan), Mr. Noor Mohammed (PUCL, Alwar), Mr Virendra Vidrohi (PUCL, Alwar), Adv. Ramjan Chowdhary (PUCL, Mewat district, Haryana), Mr Gaurav Srivastava (PUCL intern), Mr. Neelabh Mishra, Editor, Outlook (Hindi) and a section of progressive members of the Gurjar and Meo community also accompanied and assisted the fact finding team.
The team visited Gopalgarh and nearby villages on the 16th and 17th of September and, spoke to victims and their families, eyewitnesses and locally informed persons. The team also spoke to the District Magistrate, SP on duty (before they were transferred), the SHO of the Gopalgarh Police Station and senior police and administrative officials.
The government version, widely reported in the media, is that this was an outcome of rioting between two communities. It is said that since the mobs had turned violent, the police was left with no option except to open fire.
Our preliminary inquiry, however, raises many serious questions about this official account:
1. All the eight dead bodies identified are of Meo Muslims. Of the 23 persons officially acknowledged to be injured, 19 are Meo Muslims. This preponderance of Muslims among the dead and injured is intriguing, if the police was, as is claimed, acting neutrally and firing on both sides to control rioting mobs. .
2. Every eye-witness we spoke to said that there was no death before the police force intervened. According to senior police authorities as many as 219 rounds were fired by the police, which appears prima facie an excessive use of this measure of the last resort. Other than the use of tear gas shell, we did not hear about other precautionary steps to disperse the crowds such as lathi charge, use of rubber bullets. Since most of the deaths took place inside the Mosque, there is compelling reason to think that the firing targeted one community.
3. Local persons reported that several dead bodies were burnt. In addition, three dead bodies were discovered from a nearby well. This aspect requires thorough investigation, since it is reasonable to presume that the police was in-charge of the site after firing had taken place and the mobs dispersed.
4. There are many aspects that point to a collusion between the local police, an aggressive section of the Gujjar community and some local RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP leaders. The composition of the Police Station (eight police personnel were from the Gujjars community, while none was Muslim) and its conduct in the recent past gives rise to the impression that the police was not neutral.
5. The Mosque bore evidence of extensive vandalism, which lends credence to the allegation that after the firing the Mosque was ‘captured’ by a section of the Gujjar community in complicity with the police.
6. The burning and mutilation of at least three or more dead bodies and of those who were alive (some of the patients in the SMS bear witness to this) again gives rise to the suspicion that the local police and a section of the Gujjar community may have colluded in the aftermath of police action. There is a serious apprehension that this could have been done in order to destroy all evidence of bullet and other injuries.
7. The conduct of the administration in handling the original dispute concerning the graveyard land and during the crisis of 14 September leaves many questions unanswered. There were confirmed reports about violent confrontation between the two communities (thousands from each side) around 11 a.m. But once the initial clash was put down by noon, the crowds were allowed to remain and rearm for five hours, even though the District Magistrate and SP were at the site. There is a strong belief among the Meos that that the District Magistrate was pressured into ordering firing by self-styled Hindu leaders. There are widespread allegations that firearms from the police station’s armoury were taken and used by some elements from the Gujjar community. This needs to be investigated.
The state government has announced several steps following this incident. The District Magistrate and SP have been transferred, a judicial inquiry has been announced, the investigation has been handed over to the CBI and compensation announced for the victims. These are steps in the right direction. But these are not sufficient. We suggest the following steps on an urgent basis to restore peace and public confidence.
- There are still many reports of missing persons which need to be verified immediately.
- There is a need for credible post-mortem of the dead to be done by a high level and independent panel of doctors.
- The official list of injured needs to be revised so as to include those who did not report out of fear or those who went over to Haryana to get private treatment. There is a need for a fresh MLC for all the injured.
- Arrangements should be made to bring back the Muslim families of Gopalgarh who have fled in order to save their lives.
- The entire local police should be transferred and be replaced by a multi-community police force with adequate representation of minority community.
- The local community needs to be taken into confidence in carrying out repairs and restoration of the Mosque.
- The case files should be handed over to the CBI within the next seven days.
- Confidence building measures in this region to reduce the possibility of communities coming to a flashpoint and to restore trust among the minority community need to be undertaken.
- As a longterm measure all disputes pertaining to community spaces such as temples, mosques, graveyards, cremation grounds, etc should immediately be identified and special courts set up to resolve the legal disputes. Simultaneously, steps should be taken to amicably settle such disputes by bringing the communities in question together through proactive measures.
- The terms of reference of the Judicial Enquiry must specifically include:
- The conduct of the District Collector and SP of Bharatpur, the Additional SP on the site, the SHO of Gopal Garh police station, The Circle Officer of the area and the Tehsildar who issued notices under sec 91 of LRA, which precipitated the situation.
- The role of outsiders on the 14th of September during the inconclusive mediation meeting between the leaders of both communities held to further intercommunal resolution at the police station, which compelled the Collector to give written orders for firing.
- The persons responsible for vandalising the Mosque, scorching the dead, putting the dead bodies in the well and those who allowed these persons to enter the mosque when it was in complete control of the police
- Conduct of police and administration in the five hours from noon to 5 pm so as to find out why the weapons were not seized from both the communities during the course of day and why section 144 CrPC was not imposed when several thousand people had gathered
- The handling of the original revenue dispute to find out why the concerned Tehsildar issued notices of eviction under section 91 of the Land Revenue Act when the SDM Pahari was already dealing with the Kabristan Land issue under section 136 of the Land Revenue Act
- The fire in the stacks of cowdung cakes (the Baterwas-hut shaped structures made for the storage and safety of cow dung cakes) around the site of firing that raged for two days and why were the fires not doused despite the local availability of the fire engine.
- The exact circumstances in which the orders of firing were issued and the possibility that some police arms were used by private persons.
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