Interview of Zubair Jaafri

A decade ago, Ahsan Jafri, a former member of parliament, was killed in the riots that besieged the state of Gujarat. On Feb. 28, 2002, witnesses said that Muslim women and children sought refuge in Mr. Jafri’s home in the Gulberg Housing Society, and that he made frantic phone calls seeking help because a mob that had gathered outside. The police arrived too late, survivors had said, and Mr. Jafri was killed along with 69 others when the mob set fire to his home. His widow, Zakia Jafri, filed suit in court in an effort, she says, to find justice.

Earlier this month, a Supreme Court-appointed investigative team said it had found no evidence against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, whom Ms. Jafri and others hold accountable for the carnage. Zuber, the youngest of Mr. Jafri’s three children, lives in the United States with his wife and children. He recently shared his family’s reactions to the investigative team’s report, his thoughts on the Indian judicial system, and on his father’s legacy, with India Ink.


When did you move to the U.S.? Where do you work?


I moved to the U.S. in 1999. I am the CTO (chief technology officer) for a private firm in Delaware.


Are your siblings here with your mother or in the U.S.? Could you tell me a little bit about them?


My elder brother, Tanveer, is in Surat [a city in Gujarat] and my mother is with him. My elder sister, Nishrin, is in the U.S. Tanveer is deputy general manager with L&T while Nishrin is a comptroller with a private company in Delaware.


What was your reaction to the Special Investigative Team findings?


I think SIT was assigned a task of investigation and they have collected a lot of data and now it is the court who will decide the future course. The phone call data collected by [police] officer Rahul Sharma needs to be analyzed properly to investigate the presence of criminals and officers in the places of mass killings.

The government of Gujarat, instead of awarding the bravery of Rahul Sharma, has started a false investigation against the officer. This clearly shows the motive of the government. It’s trying to hide the truth and is harassing officers trying to reveal the truth. Interrogation of Modi was a totally one-sided affair, allowing him to give a false portrait of what happened in 2002 in front of the world. No counter questions were asked by the officer involved in the interrogation.

My family has not seen the SIT report or [the amicus curiae, or impartial legal expert, on the case] Raju Ramachandran’s report so we don’t know the details. What we understand from the court order is that SIT has found no evidence against 62 accused, including Modi. This in no way stops the struggle for justice for the victims of 2002 Gujarat riots. Now, the court will have to decide on the basis of the data collected whether to accept SIT’s recommendation or start a fresh investigation.


What are the next steps forward for you and your family?

Zakia Jafri sits inside the remains of her former residence at Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad, Feb. 27, 2012, which was one of the worse affected neighborhoods during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. Ms. Jafri's husband, Ahsan was killed during the massacre on February 28, 2002.Sam Panthaky/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesZakia Jafri sits inside the remains of her former residence at Gulbarg Society in Ahmedabad, Feb. 27, 2012, which was one of the worse affected neighborhoods during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. Ms. Jafri’s husband, Ahsan was killed during the massacre on February 28, 2002.

My mom is a very brave woman, very strong, and she has dedicated this struggle for truth and justice to my father. Tanveer, my brother, is standing strong along with her, the entire family is along with her. Teesta Setalvad and CJP[Citizens for Justice and Peace], along with so many lawyers, have been part of the struggle for the last 10 years. The resolve has only gotten stronger after the SIT report. She is not alone in this struggle. There are thousands of people who have reached out to her for support and are standing up for truth to come out.

One of the books in my father’s library that got burnt in 2002 was of Martin Luther King and I still remember him reading to us a quote of King’s: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We believe justice will not elude thousands of victims of 2002 riots.


What have you struggled with since your father has been killed? How have your initial perceptions changed over the last decade?


While growing up, we were aware of the spreading problem of communalism. Our house was burnt in 1969 before I was born. My family along with Tanveer and Nishrin were in camps for a month before my father built the house again and returned to the same neighborhood. We saw him working tirelessly against the forces of communalism and ultimately he paid the highest price with his life. I believe the task of building bridges between different communities affected by riots has become that much harder because of a lack of remorse and justice in Gujarat.

Ahsan Jafri with grand children Aniqua (L) and Wasim along with daughter-in-law Duraiya Jafri in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, 1994.Courtesy of Zuber JafriAhsan Jafri with grand children Aniqua (L) and Wasim along with daughter-in-law Duraiya Jafri in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, 1994.

What has helped you through this period?


My father’s poetry and the goodness he represented has kept me going. My mother and my family have given me strength to continue. I always listen to his poetry in his own voice. It gives me inspiration when feeling alone. He was a nationalist and his poems reflect his thoughts on nation and the problem of communalism. These are a few lines from his poem “Mera Watan” [My Country] and “Qaumi Yakjehti,” [National Unity].

“Mera Watan”

Geeton Se Teri Zulfon Ko
Meera Ne Sanwara

Gautam Ne Sada Di
Tujhe Nanak Ne Pukara

Khusro Ne Kai Rangon Se
Daaman Ko Nikhara

Har Dil Mein Mohabbat Ki
Ukhuwat Ki Lagan Hai

Ye Mera Watan, Mera Watan
Mera Watan Hai

“Qaumi Yakjehti”

Apni dagar pe usne kante bicha diye hain
Khwabon ke sare kheeme us ne jala diye hain
Ulfat ke sare qisse usne mita diye hain
Minar dosti ke usne gira diye hain
Mere watan ke logo bipta bari padi hai

Mil jul ke sath rehna ellane zindagi hai
Khushyon ko baat dena farmane zindagi hai
Ghairon ka dard sehna unwane zindagi hai
Sab ke kiye ho jeena armane zindagi hai
Mere watan ke logo bipta badi padi hai

(You can listen to his poems here.)


Do you believe in the Indian judicial system?


I do and I believe justice will be served ultimately. My father served his country’s judicial system with distinction as a member of parliament and as a lawyer all his life. We believe justice has been delayed but justice will not be denied.


Do you think the media has got anything wrong in the coverage of your mother’s case?


I think Indian media has played mostly a positive role in keeping the issue and struggle for justice alive for the victims. Gujarat government would have closed all the cases within months if it weren’t for the activists and media bringing the real facts in front of the people after the riots.

(The interview has been lightly edited.)

Taken from


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