Some More Eye witness Accounts of S-6 Sabarmati Express
'Lord Ram has given me new lease of life'
Raja Bose, TNNMar 6, 2002, 12.10am IST
ahmedabad: the saying, snatching life from the jaws of death, has ceased to be a cliche for 60-year-old debashis bhattacharya. death came menacingly close, like the flames in the s-6 coach of the ill-fated sabarmati express on february 27, which he boarded from lucknow, but got saved by the skin of his teeth. recuperating at a relative's place in nava wadaj here and still shattered, bhattacharya, probably one of the few survivors of coach s-6, recalls how he had to virtually choose the "manner of his impending death," which he thought had become certain then -- whether to stay back in the compartment and get burnt alive or crawl out of the coach through a broken window and face the stone-pelting, weapon-weilding mob. bhattacharya, a retired employee of a private sector firm in lucknow, knew the journey wasn't going to be a comfortable one, what with a large number of ram sevaks boarding the train at the lucknow station. "in rudiyali, close to lucknow, we had our first brush with stone-pelting," says bhattacharya. luck ran out for the sabarmati express at godhra station. "like at every other station, the ram sevaks had got down on the platform on wednesday morning, shouting jai shri ram slogans, even breaking into an improptu dance." but, bhattacharya realised that all was not well at godhra when we saw the ram sevaks scurrying in and barking at fellow passengers to pull the shutters down as the train pulled out of the station. "i realised that there must have been some trouble on the platform. the people getting in looked tense," said bhattacharya. the train came to a screeching halt about a km from the station. and, then began defeaning sounds of stones banging on the steel body of the coach. "it went on without a stop. soon, people began breaking open the windows and stones were flying in. i managed to crawl under my berth and shielded myself with my suitcase. i could hear defeaning roars of 'mar dalo sabko' and 'ek ko bachne nahi denge'," says bhattacharya. but soon, bhattacharya realised he was safe no longer. he smelt something burning and smoke was crawling up to him. he bagan choking. "i saw a broken window. its bars had also been twisted apart." he had not missed the irony. "the attack itself had actually opened up a way for me," bhattacharya said. "at that moment, it was a choice between the devil and the deep sea. the flames were leaping up close to me. i would have been engulfed in them or asphyxiated if i stayed back. the other choice was to climb out of the window and face the rampaging mob. i chose the latter," he said. he even tried to get his fellow passenger, a young boy, to climb out with him. but, the boy did not stir. when bhattacharya, a thin man, wiggled out of the window, the mob had thinned on that side. he later realised that he had spent almost an hour inside that train. as he waited on the troubled spot, with the mob slowly dispersing, he heard the ram sevaks, grouping back, baying for revenge. the man who saw death in the eye feels, in hindshight, that "it couldn't have been a spontaneous reaction." "the train had hardly moved a km out of the station. and, from the intensity of the noise of stones hitting the coach, i knew the crowd was massive. in all probability, the word may have come from rudiyali itself," he says. however, he has no clue what triggered the incident. he has a vague explanation why his coach, s-6, was targetted -- the reason according to him being that it had the highest number of young and vociferous ram sevaks. but bhattacharya certainly knows that mandir or no mandir, "lord ram has given me a new lease of life."
Killing others is no solution: Victim's father
Saurav Mukherjee & Radha Sharma, TNNMar 2, 2002, 10.38pm IST
ahmedabad: they have lost someone close in the senseless violence, but they are not letting that affect their sense of right and wrong. they want peace, not revenge. "i am extremely disturbed over what is happening in our area. i had pleaded with folded hands to all who came to my son's cremation to please restrain themselves and maintain peace", govind makwana told times news network on the day of besna of his only son umakant, 22, who was burnt alive on board the sabarmati express. but naroda-patia is tense after a 5,000-strong mob burnt not less than 65 people alive to avenge the godhra killings. the mob in the area was especially enraged over the the death of umakant, and it is said that what happened in naroda-patia was because of that. "killing other people is not the solution. losing a son is shattering, and i want no father or mother to suffer from this feeling," pleaded govindbhai. rajendra singh thakur and his father were among the few who managed to escape death at godhra railway station. they had miraculously crawled out alive from the blazing s6 compartment of the ill-fated sabarmati express, and would like to put the gory incident behind them. vengeance is not on their agenda and with a good reason too. "my 17-year-old brother ramesh is no more. he could not get out of the train in time. my father and i walked out in utter confusion hoping that ramesh would already have got out. but, he's not more," whispered thakur looking remorsefully at his bandaged right arm. the youth has almost lost his voice due to the fumes inside the burning train. thakur now waits in the burns ward of civil hospital of ahmedabad for the tension to die down before he can leave for his home in the kadi area. he said, "i know now how much it pains to lose a dear one to mindless communal violence. i will not want the same fate for anyone else. only the innocent like us get hurt."
AHMEDABAD: Appearing before an investigation commission, two eyewitnesses of the 2002 Godhra train carnage contradicted the "conspiracy theory" propagated by Gujarat government and investigative agencies.
Ramnaresh Ramnihar Gupta from Uttar Pradesh and Veerpal Chhedilal Pal from Vapi in south Gujarat, whom were had travelled in the S-6 Coach that was burnt down, appeared before the commission of Justices G.T. Nanavati and K.G. Shah.
According to Veerpal, who was present in the coach when it caught fire, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists were behaving "very rudely" with passengers and others.
"I didn't get tea when I got down at the Godhra station. When the train stopped first time, a Muslim tea vendor got in. I asked him to fetch me tea, but the karsevaks (VHP activists) shouted not to take it from a Muslim. They forced the vendor out of the coach," Pal told the commission.
"To me harassing the tea vendor appears a reason for the attack on the S-6 Coach. Why didn't they target any other coach?" he added.
It was after misbehaving with the tea vendor that the stone throwing on the coach began, according to Pal.
While a mob of the minority community pelted stones at the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, 140 km from here, the S-6 Coach also caught fire, killing 59 passengers - majority of them being VHP activists.
The gruesome event led to state-wide communal violence, which claimed at least 1,000 lives. The two-member commission is investigating the Godhra tragedy and the ensuing violence.
According to Gupta, smoke was coming out from the train toilet side and visibility was decreasing.
"The door at the off side (away from the platform) was open and I managed to get down with my seven nephews. I did not see anybody trying to set fire from inside.
"I did not see fire when I was inside. When I came out, I could see fire. It began from the connecting portion of the two coaches at the driver's side," said Gupta.
From the deposition of the two witnesses, it appeared that the incident was spontaneous, said Mukul Sinha, a lawyer with Jan Sangharsh Manch, a human rights group.
"The witnesses clearly said that they didn't see anybody burning the coach from within. This doesn't go along with the conspiracy theory put forth by the prosecution which has argued that Muslims got on the train with inflammable liquid and put the coach on fire," Sinha told reporters.
Meanwhile, Vadodara police commissioner Deepak Swaroop also appeared before the commission. He was special inspector general of Vadodara range at the time of the incident.
What exactly transpired between ASM Meena and the mob?
Meena is silent on the issue in his statement to the police. TEHELKA’s undercover reporter decided to meet him posing as a research scholar. Meena — not aware that he was talking to a journalist or being recorded — said that when he came down and asked the mob why they were chasing the train, a few people from the mob replied that one of their people had been abducted by the karsevaks on the train. Meena also said that he heard a few in the mob suggesting that the coach be set on fire to drive people out of the coach so they could recover their person. But he saw no swords, any other sharp weapon or inflammable material being carried by the mob. On the contrary, according to him, the mob mainly consisted of women and children carrying sticks and pelting stones.
TINDERBOX: A jam-packed coach S-6 is a waiting death trap
By all accounts, S-6 was bursting at its seams. The number of passengers in the coach was at least three times its normal capacity. According to eyewitnesses there were about 250 passengers. The doors and windows were completely shut. Further, to prevent the mob from forcing their way into the compartment, the passengers had blocked all the doors with their luggage.
As one of the survivors of S-6, army personnel Govindsingh Rajput says, “I and three or four other people opened a door on the right side of the coach with great effort because to prevent the people outside from opening the doors, passengers had blocked the doors on both sides of the coach with their luggage.”
Laltakumar Jadhav corroborates this. “Karsevaks, Bajrang Dal activists and other passengers of the coach had assembled their baggage near the doors of the coach and to see that nobody could enter the coach.”
Outside, having tried unsuccessfully to dissuade the mob from attacking the train, the frightened Meena ran back to Cabin A. His colleague Sharma, the only other person present in the cabin, never stepped out. In his police statement, Meena said: “I was frightened and came running back to Cabin A. I asked Akhil Kumar Sharma to close all the doors and windows of the cabin. Sharma had already informed the DSS (Deputy Station Superintendent) Godhra and Vadodara control room on the railway phone that the Sabarmati Express was being pelted by stones to a great extent by a mob. After informing the RPF , the phone started ringing and I and Sharma started replying the same.”
Inside the train too, no one could quite make out what was happening outside.
As Pande, the army man, and another co-passenger Rajendrasingh Rajput have testified, the karsevaks and Bajrang Dal activists had got everybody in coach S-6 to shut the doors and windows, so neither Pande nor Rajput could see what was happening outside the coach.
This was the case with most of the coaches. Saburbhai Parmar, a karsevak who was traveling in a general compartment, says in his police statement, “As there was stone throwing we had closed the windows and doors and sat inside the coach… I was frightened and did not see any person.” Another karsevak in a general compartment, Sanjay Sukhadiya, says the same. “I had seen a mob of about 1,000 to 1,500 persons pelting stones at the train and coming nearer and nearer. We ramsevaks were all frightened and had not opened the windows and doors.”
Ghosts of Godhra The burning of coach S-6 triggered a massive pogrom against Muslims
SMOKE AND FIRE:Eyewitness accounts by S-6 passengers
At about 8:30am, Meena first spotted smoke rising from S-6. Passengers aboard S-6 too first saw the smoke and then the fire. This is what Pande, the army man, said in his statement on 1 April, 2002: “Members of Bajrang Dal and other passengers were shouting and hiding the women and children below the last seat. After 10 to 15 minutes, all of a sudden smoke erupted from seat number 72 and within some time flames were seen. I and three or four other people who were sitting on the upper seat got down and opened the door on the right side of the coach with great effort because to prevent the people outside from opening the doors, passengers had blocked the doors on both sides of the coach with their luggage. Some other people and karsevaks also alighted from the coach.”
Rajendrasingh Rajput, also travelling in S-6 with his father, said, “A mob of about 100 to 150 people in the northern direction were throwing stones at the train. The people in this mob were armed with pipes, dhariyas and swords. As I came out through the window, they hit me on my leg, shoulder and hands with pipes and stones. My father had felt suffocated by the smoke in the coach. I had also sustained burn injuries on both my hands and ears. Thereafter, people from Godhra had taken me and my father to the Godhra civil hospital.”
After getting down from the train, Pande says he saw “boys of 15 to 16 years of age taking rounds around the train. They were armed with iron rods and knives. On seeing them, I ran for about 70 to 80 feet. Then some of them surrounded me. By that time, I had sustained some injuries on my right hand due to the stone throwing. The boys were shouting, “Maaro… maaro.” I told the boys I was an army man. They asked for proof. I pulled out my warrant from my pocket. One boy, after seeing my warrant, told the others I was an army man and nobody should beat me. The other boys then asked for my name. The said boy read out my name, upon which the other boys said I was a Hindu and one of them hit me with an iron rod on my head. My head started bleeding and I felt dizzy. Then, the said boy, after driving away the other boys, dropped me on the main road.”
EMERGING CONTRADICTIONS: Was the mob carrying petrol and kerosene? Among survivors of coach S-6, only the karsevaks claim so
Neither Meena — the only official who witnessed the mob from close quarters — nor any of the survivors who were not karsevaks in S-6, like army man Pande and Rajendrasingh Rajput, saw any inflammable material like petrol, kerosene or diesel being carried by the mob. Nor did they see coach S-6 being set on fire. Satish Misra, a businessman in Vadodara who was travelling back with his family from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh on S-6, and who lost his wife in the blaze, says, “Upon hearing that there was stone pelting on the coach, we had closed the windows and doors... As there were fumes of smoke on account of the fire I could not see any people pelting stones or who set the coach on fire.”
Four among the surviving karsevaks of coach S-6, — Amrutbhai Patel, Dineshbhai Patel, Rambhai Patel and Nitinbhai Patel, all residents of Mehsana, all of whom had gone to give ahuti at the Ramjap Yagna at Ayodhya — too have stated in their first statements, recorded on March 8, 2002, that they had not seen anybody carrying inflammable material or setting the coach on fire. They said that they fell unconscious because of the smoke inside the coach. The only people who claim to have seen the mob carrying inflammable material are some of the karsevaks in S-6 who survived and karsevaks in other coaches. Interestingly, all these karsevaks admit that they had shut the doors and windows of their coaches because of the heavy stone pelting, yet in the same breath they claim they saw the mob armed with all kinds of inflammable material.
WITH PRAYERS ON HIS LIPS, SINHA STARTED WALKING ON THE RAILWAY TRACK. IT WAS ONLY AFTER A FEW MINUTES THAT HE DARED TURN BACK AND LOOK...
For Satish K Sinha, February 27, 2002 marks his rebirth. Sinha, who currently works with the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) in Delhi, came out unscathed of the burning Sabarmati Express train at the Godhra station. "Chilling memories of those tense moments are still fresh in my mind... Even today, cries of people burning inside the S-6 sleeper coach reverberate in my ears," says Sinha, a resident of Masaurhi village on the outskirts of Patna.
At least 58 pilgrims were charred to death in the coach set afire by a mob, an event that sparked off the Gujarat riots of 2002, which saw hundreds being pitilessly massacred.
Recounting the horror, Sinha says, "I was then posted at Vijaypur, near Guna, in Madhya Pradesh. On an official trip to Baroda, I boarded the overcrowded train at Ruthai, the nearest railway station, around 9 pm on February 26. I was alone on the berth when the train reached Godhra around 7.20 am. After 10 minutes, it chugged off but stopped soon as someone had pulled the alarm chain. The train moved again after 10 minutes when we heard shouts of "maaro, maaro" from outside. Scared, everyone downed the window shutters."
According to Sinha, the train halted again, and he could hear his coach being pelted with stones and lathis. It seemed to go on endlessly when he suddenly saw smoke billowing into his coach. "Out of sheer panic, I lifted my briefcase and rushed towards the exit. I saw a mob of over 500 lathiwielding people outside the S-6 coach," Sinha says, and adds that he made an about turn towards the other exit and "just jumped off the train".
With prayers on his lips, Sinha started walking on the railway track. It was only after a few minutes that he dared turn back and look. He saw flames leaping out of the S-6 coach, which is when he started running and eventually reached the Ahmedabad highway, about two km away, from where he took a bus to Dakor and from there another bus to Baroda.
Those were days when mobile phones were not common possessions and it was Sinha's office that informed his wife, panicky after watching the news on TV in Patna, about his safety. During his half-an-hour talk with TOICrest , Sinha must have thanked the almighty at least ten times for "guiding me away from death that tragic morning" .
AHMEDABAD: The countdown to the Godhra carnage case trial where 59 'kar sevaks' died, has begun but the most plausible theory of how the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express on February 27 last year may have been set on fire, has been disputed by a bonafide passenger who saw and survived it all.
Hariprasad Joshi (51), a Nepali passenger, was travelling with his wife Devika, from Lucknow to Ahmedabad in S-6 with a reservation on seat no 41 and 44, and claims to have seen no petrol or inflammable fluid being poured from the seat number 72 end of the coach to set it ablaze.
He witnessed the entire sequence of events in an effort to save his wife who died in the coach that day. Terming the theories floated by the police about petrol being poured into the coach as, "humbug," Joshi who works as an office superintendent in the Income-tax department says, it was burning rags tied on stones which were pelted into the coach and set it on fire.
Interestingly, Joshi has given his testimony before the police twice, the last being in June last year, which was appended to the supplementary chargesheet. In an interview to TNN, Joshi said that he had gone to Nepal for the first death anniversary of his father-in-law and was returning without any knowledge about the movement of the 'kar sevaks'.
He says, the entire train was inter-connected with all the vestibule doors open, which also counters the fact that the vestibule door between S-6 and S-7 was forced open to let the attackers inside.
At Godhra station, "I saw 'kar sevaks' armed with 'trishuls' and hockey sticks moving about in groups and shouting slogans like 'Jai Shri Ram' " Joshi remembers seeing the hockey sticks and 'trishuls' even in the coach. According to him, it was because of a window near seat number 38 which refused to close, that allowed the burning rags inside the compartments.
"First, the rexine seats caught fire and then the airbags and other soft luggage which fuelled the flames after that there was only smoke since the coach was sealed and oxygen levels had reduced," he says. Joshi describes how the passengers all queued up to get out from the door on the seat 72 side of the coach and he was the last one with Devika before him.
"But when the smoke got unbearable, I tried unbuttoning my coat but collapsed on the floor and suddenly found myself breathing, because the smoke was moving upwards," he says. Realising that the crowd of some 150 passengers on the 72-side would take long to clear, "I crawled on the opposite direction towards seat number 1 and suddenly some people who were locked in the bathroom here, emerged and open the door on the 'A' cabin side," he says.
Joshi escaped from here, but the draught of fresh air fuelled the burning rags and "I saw tongues of flames abruptly emerging from the coach." Once outside, "I rushed to the 72 side to look for my wife but everything had gone quiet, people had asphyxiated and fainted and I saw their bodies catching fire."
Recounting the events since February 25, 2002, Joshi was surprised to find that his train was four hours late at Lucknow station and arrived at 1 am, packed with rowdy passengers who refused to let them in. When finally inside, after some argument, they vacated berth no 43 on the top for them.
"They fought with all the bonafide passengers in Kanpur, Bina, Babina everywhere and got off in groups on all stations shouting slogans, throughout the day on 26th (February 2002)".