The unwavering courage of Sanjiv Bhatt is trapped in the fabricated case: Sanjiv Bhatt’s Daughter

Sanjiv Bhatt is a former IPS officer of the Gujarat-cadre. He filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots and was sentenced to imprisonment of lifetime on 20 June 2019 for the death of a man in custody in 1990.

Bhatt claimed to have attended a meeting at the time of the violence in Gujarat, during which Narendra Modi allegedly told police officials that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger against the Muslims. However, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Top Court concluded that IPS Bhatt did not attend this meeting and dismissed his allegations. SIT did not find evidence that ministers interfered with the police’s independent functioning. Modi was granted “clean chit,” by both SIT and the trial court.

Case against Sanjiv Bhatt

Sanjiv Bhatt is convicted of murder in connection with a case in 1990 by a sessions court in Gujarat state when he arrested over 150 people during the riots. Later one of them died in hospital after being released and the man’s family alleged that he died in custody after being tortured by Bhatt and other police personnel.

Bhatt and his family allege that the BJP led government targeted him because of his accusations against PM Modi. The state authorities accuse him of fabricating evidence to implicate Modi, who became Prime Minister in 2014. He is behind bar in the custodial death case.

2002 Gujarat riots

One of the deadliest riots erupted in the country since independence, after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire in Gujarat, 2002. The cause of the train blaze was never clearly established. While Hindu groups allege that Muslim protesters had started the fire, an earlier inquiry concluded the fire was an accident. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the riots.

During the violence, Sanjiv Bhatt was a senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau. He said his position allowed him to come across a significant amount of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials. In 2015, he was sacked after being suspended in 2011.

Several civil rights activists and organizations urge SC to give bail to Sanjiv Bhatt.

On 18 January this year, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights, organized virtual press conference. It condemned the harassment and appealed to the Supreme Court to grant him bail, stating that his conviction was wrong and based on fraudulent evidence. Activists argued that conviction of Bhatt was bogus. Supreme court took up the bail hearing on 27 January 2021.

Several other leaders and activists have also condemned the injustice against Bhatt, including, Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who said, “I am outraged by the injustice meted out against Bhatt, whose “conscientious service to society” and “indomitable capacity for speaking truth to power” had put him in jail.

Filmmaker and human rights defender Anand patwardhan said, Bhatt has been jailed for no other reason than the fact that “He opposed the massacre in 2002.”

Human rights activist and actor Malika Sarabhai said, “There was a definite agenda in Bhatt’s case.”

Executive director of IAMC Rasheed Ahmed, said, “The Indian government must stop politically managing Sanjiv Bhatt’s case.”

Sanjiv Bhatt’s plea in Supreme Court

On January 27, the Top Court had adjourned the hearing for six weeks on a plea filed by Sanjiv Bhatt seeking suspension of his life imprisonment jail sentence in custodial death case.

A three-judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising of Justices M R Shah and R Subhash Reddy said, “Till the petitioner’s (Sanjiv Bhatt) review petition against a 2019 order by the SC is decided, we adjourn the matter for six weeks.”

Appearing for Bhatt, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal had said that out of 300 witnesses, only 37 have been examined. He said this case complete mistrial because his 22 witnesses have not been examined. He is not on merits and that the procedure adopted is against him. The deceased had no injury on the body, Sibal said.

In his plea before the top court, Bhatt submitted that there is “political vendetta” against him and the charges were framed against him without proper sanction from the state.

Psychological torments on Bhatt’s family

In an interview with Sydney Malayalam Live, the wife of Sanjiv Bhatt, Shwetha bhatt expressed her psychological torments. “These all started when my husband started deposing before the Nanavati Mehta commission and the other commissions as well. He was the chief of intelligence then and was asked to come for deposition and give a report regarding the riots which had taken place in 2002 in Gujarat. He gave a detailed report on how the government and then the CM, now the PM Narendra Modi was responsible either by failure or resign. But whatever way, the government and the CM were responsible for the riots in 2002. So as soon as he deposed before them in 2009, we started facing several difficulties and problems.”

Swetha Bhatt said they keep increasing daily, the foam and the gravity of the problem, harassment. Supreme Court had ordered a “Y” category of security for Sanjiv Bhatt because he is the sole surviving witness in this affidavit filed before the government. However, no security was provided and even the minimum security we had was withdrawn.

“Under the pretext of illegal construction, my house was broken down, the house in which my ancestors and I were living and nothing was constructed. They did not even give us any warning or allowing to remove things from our home. They were in such urgency that they just wanted to bulldoze the half part of my house and therefore did that very effectively. They even gave me a bill of 2,50,000, which I was supposed to pay to demolish my own home. Later, I met with an accident that I believe was planned because my car was hit by a truck on a road where trucks were not allowed. And the truck was absolutely new without any numbers, no papers, no nameplate, nothing at all. The driver also did not know any language, and he fled away. We survived, my son and me, but yeah, that was the thing they did,” she said.

Swetha said people keep roaming near their house and keep watch as to where she goes. They even click her photographs and constantly watch who comes to her place. “They are always threatening my family and me in every possible way. These are the circumstances we are facing right now.

It’s an unfortunate thing, not for me, not for Bhatt and his family, but for every officer and his family. Anything can happen with anyone, so if other officers and police officers don’t come to support him now, then when will they come?” Swetha asked.

Bhatt’s wife added, “As soon he was arrested, he didn’t get any bail. We’ve been trying for bail. But there’s no bail. They keep delaying the bail, even though there is no legal grounds for the delay.”

Bhatt’s children on their father’s legal battle

Sanjiv Bhatt’s daughter, Aakashi Bhatt, is fighting her legal battle to free her father, who crusaded for justice of Gujarat communal riot victims of 2002.

In an interview with Indian American Muslim Council, the daughter said that on 27 February 2002, after the burning Sabarmati Express at Godhra station, an unofficial meeting was called in by Mr. Modi at his residence, where he very clearly exclaimed that let Hindus vent their anger. He directly gave orders to all the state functionaries to step down look the other way while the Hindus vented out their anger. My father was present at that meeting.

“Shortly after 2002 riots, Modi went on a victory march, going to different places where the violence broke out in in a bigger magnitude and gave inflammatory speeches for just stoking communal tensions. The Minorities Commission ended up seeking the tapes of Modi’s speeches in order to investigate further. The officials, under extreme pressure said that the tapes do not exist; we did not record on that day. Officers like my father, and Mr. Abhishek Kumar, came forward and provided the Commission with the tapes. Very next day, those officials were immediately transferred out on punishment postings,” Aakashi Bhatt said.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran was appointed by Supreme Court to investigate allegations of Modi’s complicity in the riots. He points out at the evidence of presence of two senior ministers in police control room on 28 February 2002 as the riots raged in Gujarat. He says that his presence had a dampening effect on senior police officials.

“In 2003, when was father was appointed as superintendent of the police of Sabarmati central jail, the man accused of having assassinated, Mr. Haren Pandya, Asghar Ali was also imprisoned in that very jail. He had come forward and confessed to my father, saying that the third man named Tulsiram Prajapati had actually carried out the assassination. As soon as new evidence came out as per protocol, my father immediately called the then Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, and he was told that if there is any physical evidence about it if you’ve written this down, destroy it, this conversation never happened,” Bhatt’s daughter said.

In 2014, when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India, shortly after assuming his office, Sanjiv Bhatt was dismissed from duty under the frivolous ground of “unauthorized absence.”

As the BJP and Modi kept growing in power, the vindictive victimization kept on growing as well, Aakashi said, adding, “My father is a sole surviving witness to the state’s complicity in the 2002 riots. My father is the only man who can link Modi to the 2002 riots.”

“This is a fight to the finish, which we will fight. We are trying to fight this within the legal norm of our Indian system; they are trying to put in each and every force that they have to silence my father once and for all. And I hope I believe that justice will be delivered, that in the end, the truth will triumph over evil. Because my father has for all these years relentlessly being the voice of all the victims of the 2002 riots, he has defended at great personal and professional cost all of these people who could not stand up for themselves. It is now more than ever, our duty to now defend the defenders when the very defenders are being victimized by its fascist system,” she said.

Children of Sanjiv Bhatt, Aakashi Bhatt and Shantanu Bhatt said, “Sanjiv Bhatt is paying the price of being honest, upright, courageous.”

He has spent over two years in jail for a 30-year-old case. On his birthday 21 December 2020, his children wrote an open letter as the family was unable to meet him when Bhatt turned 57-year-old. The daughter recalled their relishing moments with her father on his birthdays. Sanjiv Bhatt is serving a life sentence. He is sentenced for the alleged death of Prabhudas in police custody.

The daughter feels that the “voice of truth is behind the bar now”. The unwavering courage of Bhatt is trapped in the fabricated case.”His home was broken down, and the nation has shut it’s eyes and ears,” she exclaimed.

Aakashi and Shantanu asked the people of India to rise. They penned, “You, Dad, are our hero, our Pride!”

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