Hours after former Indian Police Service officer Sanjiv Bhatt was sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30-year-old custodial death case, his wife Shweta Bhatt said he had been punished for “doing his duties...irrespective of political pressure”.
In a Facebook post from her husband’s account on Thursday, she claimed that the Gujarat government had supported Bhatt in the case until 2011, when he accused then Chief Minister Narendra Modi of encouraging communal riots in the state in 2002.
Bhatt was given the sentence on Thursday by a sessions court in Jamnagar in Gujarat under the Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The prosecution had alleged that Bhatt, as an additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar in 1990, had detained more than 100 people in connection with a communal riot and one of them died in hospital after he was released.
“It is strange that how a death which occurred after 18 days of being out of custody, without any indications of internal or external trauma or injury, a death which was examined and reported by the forensic medicine experts to have no indication of torture or grievance, was declared to be a homicidal death,” Shweta Bhatt wrote.
Shweta Bhatt said the sentencing was a “blatant example of vindictive persecution”. “Justice has not only been denied, but an innocent man has been persecuted for doing his duty with diligence,” she said, adding that they will challenge the sessions court order.
Bhatt’s wife said Jamnagar had witnessed major communal violence on October 24, 1990 after Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani’s rath yatra was stopped in Bihar. Bhatt was the additional superintendent of police in Jamnagar rural division at the time, but he was given additional charge of the other two police divisions in the district too on that day as the officers in charge there were on leave.
On October 30, 1990, a curfew was imposed in Jamjodhpur in Jamnagar district after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP gave a call for a Bharat Bandh. When Bhatt visited the police station in Jamjodhpur, Circle Police Inspector Bhavnad said 133 people were arrested in incidents of mass communal violence and arson, Shweta Bhatt said. Prabhudad Madhavji Vaishnani, who later died, was one of the people under detention.
Shweta Bhatt said those who were arrested were not in her husband’s custody at any point in time, nor were they interrogated by Bhatt or his staff. She said Vaishnani or the other alleged rioters had not complained of torture when they were presented before a magistrate the next day or even after they were released on bail. Vaishnani did not raise complaints of torture after he was taken to a hospital on November 12 that year owing to ill health. He died six days later and the postmortem reports did not indicate internal or external injury or torture, she claimed.
Shweta Bhatt said the complaint of custodial torture was filed by Amrutlal Madjavji Vaishnani, who she claimed is an active member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. However, an investigation found no evidence against Bhatt.
In 2011, Bhatt was summoned as a witness by the Justice Nanavati and Justice Mehta Commission inquiring into the 2002 riots. Bhatt had accused Modi of encouraging the 2002 riots that left 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. Shweta Bhatt claimed the revision plea filed by the Gujarat government was immediately withdrawn after his deposition and orders were given to prosecute him in the custodial death case.
Shweta Bhatt claimed only 32 of the 300 witnesses were examined. “In a blatant miscarriage of justice, Shri Sanjiv Bhatt was not permitted to call in any defence witness,” she said.