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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Prime accused in Godhra train burning case, Rafiq Bhatuk, arrested

A prime accused, Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk, in the horrific burning of coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express at Godhra station on 27 Feb, 2002 has finally been arrested after 19-long years. 59 Hindus, including including 10 children and 27 women, were burnt alive that day by a 1000+ Muslim mob which chanted slogans like ‘Hindu Kafiro ko Jala dalo’, (burn the Hindu unbelievers). Sabarmati Express that day was full of Hindu devotees, or ‘kar sevaks‘ coming back from Ayodhya.

Rafiq Hussain Bhatuk (51) was part of the core group of the accused persons involved in the entire conspiracy. He has been on the run for the last 19 years, said Panchmahal Superintendent of Police (SP) Leena Patil. Based on a specific tip-off, a team of Godhra police raided a house in Signal Falia area located near the railway station on Sunday night and picked up Bhatuk, Patil told PTI.

Rafiq Bhatuk
Rafiq Bhatuk arrested by Godhra police (Source: ANI)

The Godhra carnage triggered an angry backlash from Hindus of Gujarat and culminated in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which around 1000 people died from both communities.

The PTI report adds –

The SP said Bhatuk used to work as a labourer at Godhra railway station. “He was involved in pelting stones on the compartment and pouring petrol inside before it was set on fire by other accused,” she added. An FIR on torching of the coach allegedly by a mob from Signal Falia area located near the railway station had been registered with the Godhra Railway Police, said Patil.

“After fleeing Godhra following the incident, Bhatuk spent most of his time in Delhi where he worked on railway stations and also at construction sites as a labourer. He also sold household items on a handcart,” the SP said. As part of his strategy to evade arrest, Bhatuk shifted his family from Sultan Falia, where he used to live before the Godhra incident, to Signal Falia recently, said Patil.

“We recently learnt that he had changed his house and visited his family in the past too. However, we couldn’t catch him as he used to leave after a day or two. This time, our teams managed to catch him. We will hand him over to Godhra railway police for further investigation,” said Patil.

She said at least three accused–Salim Ibrahim Badam aka Salim Panwala, Shaukat Charkha and Abdulmajid Yousuf Mitha–still remain at large in this case. It is believed that the trio had fled to Pakistan, she added.”

Other accused and court judgements

In May 2016, Farooq Bhana, another main conspirator in the Godhra carnage was similarly arrested near Godhra while coming to visit his family from Mumbai. Farooq Bhana was a Corporator and Secretary of the District Congress Committee at the time of the ghastly crime. He was part of the meeting held at Aman Guest House near the railway station where the conspiracy to set ablaze the train was hatched, and 140 litres of petrol was collected from a nearby petrol pump and stored inside the guest house.

After fleeing to Mumbai, Bhana joined the Islamic proselytising organisation Tablighi Jamaat and travelled from one place to another in religious congregations, mainly to hide his identity and evade arrest. The conspirators acted at the direction of Maulana Umerji, also associated with the Tablighi Jamaat, who was arrested as the mastermind behind the incident, but was later released by courts as no ‘concrete evidence’ was found against him during the trial.

Bhatuk’s name can be seen in the trial court judgement which convicted 31 accused for the Godhra train carnage, with 11 awarded death sentence and 20 given life imprisonment.

[37] Absconding accused Saukat Lalu opened the East-South corner door of the Coach S-6, from where the remaining three i.e. Imran Sheru, Irfan Bhobha, Rafiq Bhatuk entered in the Coach with Carboys and poured petrol.

To the dismay of victims, in 2017 Gujarat High Court commuted the death sentence given to the 11 convicts by the trial court into life imprisonment. In April 2018, Supreme Court admitted appeals filed by 30 convicts (one died in jail during pendency of appeals) against Gujarat high court’s order upholding their conviction, and also asked for bail.

A few months later in August 2018, an SIT court convicted Farooq Bhana and Imran Sheru and awarded them life sentence, taking total number of convictions in the case to 33, while acquitting three other accused – Hussain Suleman Mohan, Kasam Bhamedi and Faruk Dhantiya.

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