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Gujarat cops in a spot over exhuming bodies in riot cases

By Anil Nair in Ahmedabad
June 11, 2005 13:45 IST
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The Gujarat police, which received flak for its handling of the post-Godhra riots and the manner of probe into several of the cases, face another problem. The kin of victims of some cases have denied them permission, on religious grounds, to exhume bodies for DNA tests.

Two cases are creating problems for the police, working under directions from the Supreme Court after 2,000 riot cases were ordered to be reinvestigated by the apex court.

In both cases, relatives of victims and religious heads have denied permission to the police to exhume the bodies, saying it will amount to sacrilege.

The issue cropped up in June when relatives of eight riot victims of a massacre in Dahod district prevented the police from exhuming the bodies. The relatives said the police would be allowed only after consulting their religious head.

Police and forensic teams were kept at bay from the bodies that include those of three children, after the relatives said they were not informed that the police had to exhume the bodies for reinvestigation.

Mohammedbhai Tailor, a cleric from Dahod, said exhuming bodies was against the religion. He questioned the purpose of an investigation after three years.

"All the accused are walking free for all these years. What justice can be given at such a late stage?'' he said.

Mufti Imtiyaz, a cleric from Sarkhej in Ahmedabad, said, "This (exhuming bodies) is completely against Islam. Even a post-mortem should not be conducted unless it is an exceptional case. The question of giving permission to exhume a body does not arise. However, senior religious heads can give permission if the reasons are genuine."

A WAKF committee member in the city said, "The committee has no say in such matters. But if asked for an opinion whether the religion or law should be followed at such a crucial time... the committee will say the law should be followed."

All the eight persons were killed March 1, 2002 while fleeing along with around 700 Muslims from their village with police protection.

Neither the relatives nor the police are clear about the nature of their deaths as they could have died due to injuries sustained in stone pelting by a mob and also due to suffocation as many of them were cramped into vehicles while fleeing, the case investigating officer said.

The eight were buried in Dahod without a post-mortem.

Another case allegedly involves a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Radhanpur town, Patan district.

Officials are awaiting clearance from relatives of two riot victims to exhume the bodies to verify allegations that one of them died due to a bullet injury sustained when the legislator alleged opened fire.

The legislator Shankar Chaudary has been booked on charges of murder but has not been arrested.

"How can we take stern action against him without evidence? To gather the evidence, we need to exhume the bodies. But the relatives are not permitting us," state Director General of Police A K Bhargava said.

March 1, 2002 two persons were killed and post-mortem reports indicated one of them was killed due to bullet injuries.

A police investigation revealed the legislator was part of the group that attacked the people and opened fire on them.

The Bilkis Bano case set an example wherein bodies of victims were exhumed for DNA tests with no obstruction from relatives or religious heads.

Bano, who alleged she was gang-raped and several of her relatives were killed while fleeing from a mob in Dahod, assisted a Central Bureau of Investigation team that conducted an investigation and reopened the case after which it was transferred to a Mumbai court for trial.

The negligence of police officials who put huge amounts of salt to decompose the bodies emerged during the investigation.

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Anil Nair in Ahmedabad
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