Relatives of three UK citizens killed during communal violence in India have called on senior British ministers to press the matter when they this week meet the country’s new leader, Narendra Modi. Twelve years after the Muslim men were killed, relatives say they have still not been given the remains for burial.
Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor George Osborne will on Monday arrive in India for a two-day visit during which they will become the first UK ministers to meet Mr Modi, who for a decade was subject to a boycott by Britain and others western nations because of allegations over killings of hundreds of Muslims in a massacre in Gujarat, where he was chief minister.
When Britain ended its boycott in October 2012, one of the reasons given was that the move would better help the UK secure justice for the relatives of the men. Britain’s envoy to India, Sir James Bevan, raised the issue with Mr Modi.
Yet a spokesman for the relatives of the three men – brothers Saeed and Shakil Dawood, and their friend, Mohammed Aswat – say there has been no progress in the case, which appears to be stuck in the courts system.
“[The authorities in Gujarat] have treated us worse than dogs. The fact that we have been unable to get the remains returned shows the contempt,” said Yusuf Dawood, a brother of Saeed and Shakil. “The remains are still with the courts, who knows where they are. Are they in a cupboard?”
The three men, originally from Gujarat, were killed in the spring of 2002 while they were on a visit to the state as tourists. Their trip coincided with a wave of anti-Muslim violence and killing that gripped part of the Gujarat after dozens of Hindu pilgrims died in a fire on a train, alleged to have been started by Muslims.
The men, along with their driver, were killed by a mob after stopping at a roadblock at Prantij, 40 miles north-east of Ahmedabad. The remains of two of the men were eventually recovered after efforts by the family and the British government. Another member of the family escaped and survived. Shakhil Dawood’s body has never been found.
Indian elections - victory for Narendra Modi
Indian elections - victory for Narendra Modi
1/12 Indian elections 2014
Supporters of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi
2/12 Indian elections 2014
Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters wait for the arrival of Narendra Modi
3/12 Indian elections 2014
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters write congratulatory messages for their leader Narendra Modi
4/12 Indian elections 2014
India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi (centre), with his supporters yesterday at the BJP’s Gujarat headquarters in Gandhinagar, is the first Indian leader to have been born after independence in 1947
5/12 Indian elections 2014
BJP supporters look on near a Rangoli decoration showing a portrait of Narendra Modi
6/12 Indian elections 2014
The Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lotus party symbol is pictured outside the BJP headquarters in New Delhi
7/12 Indian elections 2014
Supporters of the India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate after learning of the poll results outside the party headquarters in New Delhi
8/12 Indian elections 2014
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters enjoy a celebratory dance show after learning of initial polling results at the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi yesterday
9/12 Indian elections 2014
An Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter hold an cutout of Narinder Modi with the lotus party symbol outside the BJP headquarters in New Delhi
10/12 Indian elections 2014
BJP leader Narendra Modi gestures while speaking to supporters after his landslide victory in the elections
11/12 Indian elections 2014
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters wave flags during a public rally by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi after his victory
12/12 Indian elections 2014
An illumination in the shape of a lotus, party symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is formed by the River Ganges
In the aftermath of the killings, Britain, the US and several European nations enacted a de facto boycott of Mr Modi. Ten years later, Britain ended this as it became increasingly clear he was a strong contender to become India’s next premier. “God is great,” Mr Modi announced on social media at the time. He was elected this May in a landslide victory.
Mr Modi has always denied claims that he allowed the killings of up to 2,000 Muslims to happen and a judicial probe concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him. One of his ministers, Maya Kodnani, was jailed for 28 years after being convicted of her role in the killing of 97 people.
The British government has declined to say what will be on the agenda when Mr Hague and Mr Osborne meet Mr Modi, though it is likely they will be looking to push opportunities for greater engagement and to boost trade and investment. Mr Hague will also meet his counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, while Mr Osborne will see finance minister Arun Jaitley.
"We continue to seek justice for the families, working with the lawyer appointed by them," said a Foreign Office spokesperson. "Minister Hugo Swire raised the case with the Gujarat state authorities responsible in spring 2013. The criminal case hearings have been repeatedly postponed."
The Indian foreign ministry said the two senior ministers, who will be accompanied by Gregory Barker, Oliver Letwin and Joseph Edmund Johnson, would discuss “bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest”.
Mr Dawood said he hoped the ministers would use the opportunity to raise the issue of the three men. “Hague needs to raise this because there will be people among the government who may feel awkward by raising something like this,” he said. “There has been a denial of justice.”
Six men were initially charged with the murder of the British citizens but they were released on bail and a number of key witnesses turned hostile, said Mr Dawood. At the beginning of 2012, two former British diplomats gave testimony via video.
Nobody from the state government of Gujarat, where Anandiben Patel has replaced Mr Modi as chief minister, was available to comment.
Teesta Setalvad, an activist who has campaigned for the victims of the 2002 killings, said the case of the three British citizens was one of ten that had been transferred to a special inquiry by India’s Supreme Court. She said 145 people had been convicted in various cases.
Yet she said witnesses protection had not been provided in the case of the three Britons and that several witnesses had declined to testify. “The UK nationals’ case has ground to a halt,” she said.
When he became Prime Minister, David Cameron said he wanted Britain to become India’s “partner of choice”. He has made three trips to India, despite the fact there has been no reciprocal visit by Delhi.
The British government is keen to be among the first countries to visit the newly elected Mr Modi, whose election campaign stressed development and growth. He has said he wants to give investors a red carpet rather than more red tape.
Among the high-profile visitors that came in recent weeks were Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, and Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister.