They were in uniform, had guns in hand: Eyewitness in Suleman Bakery case

Sadaf Modak
Suleman Bakery case, Suleman Bakery riots, 1993 Suleman Bakery case, mumbai city news

Suleman bakery near Minara Masjid in Pydhonie. (File)

TWENTY-SEVEN years after nine Muslim men were killed in police firing during the 1993 communal riots in the city, a key eyewitness deposed in court on Tuesday, recalling how uniformed police had entered a mosque and begun firing.

The now 68-year-old, who himself hid in a room of the mosque said, however, that he could not identify the policemen who opened fire as a lot of time has passed. Seven policemen are facing charges including murder for allegedly opening fire at Suleman Usman bakery, the Dar-ul-uloom Imdadiya madrasa located above it and the Chunabhatti mosque adjacent to it on January 9, 1993. On Tuesday, the witness, a resident of Bhendi Bazaar and the first eyewitness to depose in the case, told the court that the night before the incident, he had gone to the mosque and had stayed in it due to curfew in the area.

“At about 9-10 am, I felt like police were trying to enter into the mosque and they broke open the door and entered. They opened fire. It was about 11 am to 11.30 am. The people inside the mosque started running here and there,” the witness told the court during his examination-in-chief by prosecutor Ratnavali Patil.

He also said he had learnt that some people from the madrasa and bakery had died in the incident due to the firing.

“I did not see who killed the persons and who died in the incident,” he said. During cross-examination, the witness said that to escape the firing, some had fled from the bakery’s terrace while others fled through the ground floor. “There may be 20-25 policemen. Some had helmets, others did not.”

The witness said police were calling those hiding themselves and that the noise in the firing was that of “more than 10-12 bullets”.

“Police took us out and beat us with lathis. Afterwards, we were taken to Dongri police station in a police vehicle. We were kept in CID lock-up for 1-2 days, then we were taken to Arthur Road jail, then we got bail,” he said. “Police took 50-60 people into custody. Along with them, I was also made an accused. I used to attend that case regularly for about 15-16 years,” he added. The accused in that case, including the witness, were subsequently discharged of all charges.

While the accused policemen claim, in their defence, that there were armed people in the mosque and the terrace of the bakery, and that they had fired in retaliation, the witness said, “They (police) were in uniform and had guns in hand. They were not asking the people in the mosque where weapons were concealed.”

An FIR in the case was registered only in 2001 after witnesses — including workers at the bakery, students and teachers of a nearby madrasa — filed affidavits before the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission that investigated the riots. Initially, 17 policemen, including the then joint commissioner of police (crime) R D Tyagi, were named in the case. While 10 were discharged, seven — Kalyanrao Vidhate, Sahebrao Phad, Sudhir Bane, Mohan Bhise, Purshotam Naik, Chandrakant Mohite and Ramakant Motling — are facing trial on various charges including murder.