Debating India

Zahira deposition ends abruptly

Thursday 5 May 2005, by DASGUPTA*Manas

She refuses to answer many questions

AHMEDABAD: The much-awaited deposition before the G.T. Nanavati-K.G. Shah Judicial Inquiry Commission by Zahira Sheikh, the prime witness in the Best Bakery communal riot case, ended abruptly on Wednesday after she refused to answer questions put to her by the advocate for the riot victims, Mukul Sinha.

Except for admitting that her signatures in the affidavit before the commission and in the police complaints were "genuine," Ms. Sheikh declined to own that she knew about the contents in any of the documents.

She said that in the days immediately following the Best Bakery incident on March 1, 2002, she had signed many papers, some blank and some written in English or Gujarati, but did not know the contents. She had signed the papers because she was told by her acquaintances that they were meant to help her get her compensation for the riot damages and would "cause her no harm."

However, contrary to her stand in the fast track court at Vadodara that she was unaware of the contents because she could not read or write English or Gujarati, she admitted to the commission that she could read and understand Gujarati. She said she had filed the three affidavits in the Supreme Court in Gujarati so that she could understand their contents. She was also made to read her May 20, 2002, four-page affidavit in Gujarati before the commission, which she did before claiming that she did not agree with its contents. She also denied having met E.R. Dayama Kumar, a prominent advocate of Vadodara and notary, who had authenticated her affidavit.

The cross-examination ended abruptly after about 80 minutes when an exasperated Dr. Sinha said he would move an application before the commission requesting it to issue her orders to reply to specific questions if she knew the answers and summon her some other time.

Later, Dr. Sinha told mediapersons that if the commission declined to issue any such order, he would challenge its authority in the High Court.

Dr. Sinha stopped questioning her after she evaded answering most of his questions. To a few questions her reply was "I do not know," but to most others her response was "I do not want to give any answer."

Ms. Sheikh’s advocate, Atul Mistry, said that since she had given detailed answers about the March 1 incident in the Mumbai court, most of the questions put to her by Dr. Sinha were "irrelevant" and that there was no need for her to repeat the answers.

Ms. Sheikh appeared before the two-member commission probing the Godhra train carnage and the post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat only after it issued her a stern warning refusing to give her further adjournments.

She not only declined to have filed any affidavit before the commission, but also denied having lodged any complaints with the Panigate police, Vadodara, the day after the incident. She said a person called Mohammad Vora had taken her signature on the paper but she did not know it was submitted to the police as her complaint.

She refused to reply to whether she knew the Mumbai-based social activist, Teesta Setalvad, before the Best Bakery incident.

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