August 22, 2002
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Youth's testimony throws new light on Godhra attack

Sheela Bhatt in Godhra

Giving a sensational new turn to the investigation of the Godhra massacre, a Hindu youth, who has admitted to having been a member, albeit unwilling, of the group that ferried inflammable material to the spot where the Sabarmati Express was stopped on the fateful morning of February 27, has given a blow-by-blow account of the events that set Gujarat ablaze.

An old picture of Razak Kurkur from police filesThe picture emerging from his statement suggests that the masterminds of the attack were not Congress politicians Mohammed Hussain Kalota and Bilal Haji, but local businessman Razak Kurkur (seen at right in an old picture from the police files) and his associate Salim Paanwala, who ran a paan shop at the Godhra railway station and provoked the mob to attack the train.

The boy, a tea vendor at Godhra station, who shall be identified only as Ajay, made his revelations in a statement before Judicial Magistrate, First Class, A R Patel of the Godhra railway court on July 29.

His eight-page statement has been recorded under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code at Anand, when the court was on tour, and, if it stands scrutiny in court, may finally lay the vexed Godhra case to rest. The statement is admissible as evidence because it was given voluntarily and recorded before a magistrate.

A source in Godhra said Ajay's conscience had been hurting him, so he decided to speak out even though he got involved in the incident in a 'spirit of community living.'

In his statement, the source said, Ajay not only narrated the chilling sequence of events that lead to the torching of the train's compartment #S6, resulting in the death of 59 passengers, but also named all those involved in actually setting the bogie alight.

Till February 27, Ajay, who is aged 17 or 18, lived with his family in the heart of Signal Falia, the Muslim-dominated quarter near the Godhra railway station from where a frenzied crowd had rushed and attacked the compartment.

Many of the accused in the case are known to Ajay, having been his neighbours in Signal Falia or co-workers at the Godhra railway station.

According to the youth's statement, he left his home in Signal Falia at 0700 IST on February 27 and went to his employer Mahboob Fofa's house to collect a pot of tea. From there he headed for the railway station where a 'deluxe' train soon arrived from Baroda.

A little later, the Sabarmati Express chugged in. Ajay could hear loud chants of ' Jai Sri Ram.'

A few minutes later, Ajay saw his employer Fofa and Mehboob Latika, another tea vendor, run towards the engine of the Sabarmati Express, screaming that another tea vendor, Siddique Bakkar by name, was being beaten by karsevaks.

Ajay was then outside compartment #S3. He too was stopped by some karsevaks and asked to chant 'Jai Sri Ram.'

Ajay complied, but when the karsevaks asked Latika to chant the slogan, he refused. The angry karsevaks began manhandling him, but Latika managed to break free and run, shouted that people were being beaten up.

As the train began pulling out, someone pulled the emergency alarm chain. Ajay had by this time left the station and reached Rasid Raji's shop in Signal Falia. He saw a dozen autorickshaws (three-wheeler vehicles) coming towards the slum colony from the station. Each autorickshaw was carrying four or five men who quickly alighted and began throwing stones at the train.

At this point, according to Ajay's statement, a few of his acquaintances in Signal Falia, like Saukat Lalu, Irfan Bhobha and Rafique Bhatuk went behind a property owned by Kurkur, who also owns a guesthouse facing the station.

Saukat Lalu, also a tea vendor, asked Ajay to accompany him. Ajay says he did not know at that point what was being planned or what he was expected to do. He stood outside Kurkur's house along with a few other tea vendors. After a few minutes Rafique Bhatuk came out with a can (called karbo in local parlance, which is used to store inflammable material) and gave it to Irfan Bhobha. "Aa karbo rickshaw maa muki de [Keep this can in the rickshaw]," the latter told Ajay.

The contents of the can smelt like kerosene, but out of fear, says Ajay, he obeyed. Nine other boys carrying similar cans, swords, and pipes went back to the station in autorickshaws, Ajay with them. The youth claims he accompanied them because he was forced to.

The group went behind a white cabin near the station, alighted, and rushed towards the train, which had been stopped some distance away from the platform. Saukat Lalu asked Ajay to go along with them. Another member of the group, Maheboob Chanda, snatched Ajay's can of inflammable material.

Ajay, who has narrated all the events as he remembers them in chronological order, also named not just the arsonists but also all the members of the first group that began pelting stones on the train, the Godhra source said. His version matches that of some of the passengers on that train.

On page six of his statement, Ajay has described in detail how the boys in his group torched compartment #S6. According to him, they first tried to burn compartment #S2, but alert passengers inside foiled them.

They then went to compartment #S6 and slit open the vestibule between #S6 and #S7. Six boys, including Rafique Bhatur, Saukat Lalu, Irfan Bhobha, and Sheru, then boarded the compartment and splashed their inflammable material inside.

Ajay says he stood outside. When he saw a crowd beating up Rafique Bhatur, he ran from the place and went home, only to find a group of local Muslims trying to set it on fire. His neighbours prevented them, but Ajay and his family had to shift to his uncle's house.

He claims he was threatened not to tell anyone what he had witnessed about the attack. He is now in hiding, fearing for his life.

The Sabarmati in Flames: Complete Coverage

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