Skip to main content

Seventeen years ago: Two unrelated but 'infamous' incidents in Gujarat's history

Haren Pandya
By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Seventeen years ago, two seemingly unconnected, but strangely enough, inter-related incidents, took place in quick succession: the murder of Haren Pandya and the passing of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill. March 26, 2003 would surely go down to rank as one of the most infamous days in the history of Gujarat, and perhaps of India!
Early morning, on that fateful 26 March, Haren Pandya, a former Home Minister of the Gujarat government, was found assassinated under very mysterious circumstances in the heart of the upmarket western area of Ahmedabad.
It was common knowledge that Haren Pandya testified before an independent ‘Citizen’s Tribunal’ some months earlier, in which he provided minute details of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 and the persons responsible for it! The fact that he had testified, was first revealed to the media by Pandya himself.
Even as late as 2012, Pandya's wife Jagruti went on record saying, "My husband's assassination was a political murder. For the last 10 years, I have been fighting a legal battle to get him justice but in vain, however, I will continue to fight”.
His father, the late Vitthalbhai Pandya (who died in January 2011) was quite convinced of who was behind the killing of his son and he went from pillar to post (right up to the Supreme Court) hoping that the full truth of Haren’s murder would be revealed. Several non-partisan political analysts have also written volumes on this murder.
On July 5, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a Gujarat trial court’s verdict convicting 12 people accused of the murder of Pandya. Whilst this judgement is an ‘apparent’ closure to one of the most high-profile murders in India’s recent history, several unanswered questions in pursuit of the ‘whole truth’ will continue to rankle and are certainly never going to disappear.
A little after Pandya’s body was discovered, on that very day, the Gujarat government passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill 2003
A little after Pandya’s body was discovered, on that very day (March 26, 2003), the Gujarat government unanimously passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill 2003. The Opposition had staged a walk-out opposing the contents of the bill.
This Act will go down as one of the most draconian laws in post-independent India. In violation of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, it necessitates (among other anti-people provisions) that anyone wishing to convert to another religion must first seek ‘the permission’ of the civil authority in the State.
It took full five years (till 2008) for the Gujarat Government to frame the rules necessary for the implementation of law. A group of civil society leaders had challenged the constitutional validity of the law. The Gujarat High Court had sent a notice to the Gujarat Government for its response. The Government never responded to the notice, the petition was withdrawn and the law remains in force.
Pandya’s murder and the Freedom of Religion act are clear on two counts: fascists brook no dissent and that a national anti-conversion law based on the Gujarat model is in the offing!
That day March 26, 2003 was no flash-in-the-pan! It is a sign of things to come. It should never be forgotten!
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

Labelling a Jesuit a Marxist? It's like saying if you use a plane, you become American

Jesuits: Cedric Prakash, Stan Swamy By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* A thirteen- fourteen-year-old has many dreams! That's an impressionable age; at the cusp of finishing school. It is also a time when one tastes a different kind of freedom: to go for camps with boys of your own age (not with ones family). Such camps and outings were always enjoyed to the hilt. The ones, however, which still remain etched in my memory are the mission camps to the Jesuit missions in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Giant conglomerates 'favoured': Whither tribal rights for jal-jungle-jameen?

Prafull Samantara By Mohammad Irshad Ansari*  The struggle for “Jal, Jungle and Jameen” has been a long-drawn battle for the tribal communities of India. This tussle was once again in the limelight with the proposed diamond mining in the Buxwaha forest of Chhatarpur (Madhya Pradesh). The only difference in this movement was the massive social media support it gained, which actually seems to tilt the scale for the tribal people in a long time.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example

Effluent discharge into deep sea? Modi told to 'reconsider' Rs 2275 crore Gujarat project

Counterview Desk  In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known Gujarat-based environmentalist, Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra, has protested against the manner in with the Gujarat government is continuing with its deep sea effluent disposal project despite environmental concerns.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Gujarat govt gender insensitive? Cyclone package for fisherfolk 'ignores' poor women

By Our Representative A memorandum submitted to the Gujarat government by various fisherfolk associations of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat under the leadership of Ahmedabad NGO Centre for Social Justice's senior activist Arvind Khuman, who is based in Amreli, has suggested that the relief package offered to the fishermen affected by the Tauktae cyclone is not only inadequate, it is also gender insensitive.

Debt bondage, forced labour, sexual abuse in Gujarat's Bt cottonseed farms: Dutch study

By Rajiv Shah  A just-released study, sponsored by a Netherlands-based non-profit, Arisa , “Seeds of Oppression Wage sharecropping in Bt cottonseed production in Gujarat, India”, has said that a new form of bondage, or forced labour, exists in North India’s Bt cottonseed farms, in which bhagiyas, or wage sharecroppers, are employed against advances and are then often required to work for years together “without regular payment of wages.”

Govt of India has 'no moral right' to declare national day for Muslim women, Naqvi told

Counterview Desk  In what has been described as a nationwide outpouring of condemnation, following the announcement by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of Minority Affairs, declaring August 1 as ‘Muslim Women’s Rights Day’ to mark the anniversary of the Triple Talaq law, over 650 citizens have said it is nothing but "cynical optics" of using Muslim women’s rights in the face of an "unprecedented" onslaught against the rights of the Muslims in recent years.