On 29 August 2012, a sessions court in Ahmedabad pronounced its judgment in the case of a massacre in Naroda Patiya, a Muslim-dominated pocket in the city, where nearly 100 Muslims were killed on 28 February 2002, during riots in Gujarat. The court convicted 32 persons of murder and acquitted 29 others. Among the convicts were Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the Bajrang Dal, a prominent faction of the RSS; Maya Kodnani, a former MLA who was believed to be close to Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat; and Suresh Langado, who goes by the alias Richard, a Bajrang Dal member. Richard was convicted on multiple counts of rape and murder—63 eyewitnesses had named him in at least ten incidents of murder and sexual assault committed during the massacre. He was sentenced to 31 years of imprisonment.
In July 2015, the superintendent of Sabarmati Central Jail, where Richard was serving his sentence, released him on parole. Upon going home, Richard’s wife said that he beat her up and sodomised her. In December that year, Richard’s wife filed a criminal complaint and a divorce petition against him, through a lawyer named Shabana Mansuri. On 12 January 2016, the Gujarat High Court granted Richard temporary bail for 30 days, on the grounds that he had to look for his daughter, who he claimed was missing. During this period, he reportedly assaulted a journalist, Revati Laul. Laul had visited Richard at his house to conduct an interview for a book she was writing, on perpetrators of the violence during the 2002 riots. On 21 January, after Laul’s complaint, the police arrested Richard and brought him back to jail. In a Facebook post she published on 30 November, Laul said that PC Solanki, who she said headed the police special operations group, held a press conference after Richard’s arrest, and unequivocally stated that the convict would not be released again. But on 29 November 2016, Mansuri told me, Richard called up his wife’s brother and told him that he wanted to meet her to discuss the divorce petition. He was out of jail again.
Laul said that when Richard’s wife heard that he had been released again, she called Laul to inform her. The journalist had met Richard’s wife about two years ago, when the former was visiting districts affected by the riots as part of research for her book. In July 2015, after Richard, according to his wife, sodomised her, she told Laul about it. Laul took Richard’s wife to Mansuri. Since then, Mansuri said, Richard’s wife has been staying with her parents, while her divorce case continues before the court. Mansuri told me that every time Richard was released from prison, his wife went into hiding until his parole ended. In addition to their daughter, Richard and his wife have a 14-year-old son. Both children, Mansuri said, stay with their maternal grandparents when their mother goes into hiding.
Laul is worried about Richard’s release as well. In her Facebook post from 30 November 2016, Laul recounted the alleged assault. She wrote that when Richard was granted temporary bail, she had decided to meet him at his home. His wife had been staying away from their home since July 2015, and wasn’t present when Laul visited.
As Laul conducted her interview with Richard, she asked him whether he would share information about himself and his past, and without provocation, he hit her. “He lurched forward, hit me across the face till my eye began to bleed,” she wrote in her post. “Then pulled me and dragged me to the nearby wall, pinned me against it, removed an entire clump of hair from its follicle, kicked and beat me repeatedly.” Laul wrote that she managed to flee only because Richard’s son intervened, along with a few other bystanders.
Given Solanki’s assurance to the press after Richard’s previous arrest in January, Laul wrote, she was surprised when Richard’s wife informed her that he had been released. Laul added that she tried to gain information about the reasons for his release, but none of the court reporters or police officials she reached out to seemed to have any information about it. On 30 November, Mansuri said, she went with Laul to Sardarnagar police station— which had jurisdiction over Richard’s residence in Charranagar—to enquire about his release.
Laul wrote in her post that a police officer said, “No court order has been sent to the police station where Suresh lives, so we don’t know if he is out on parole.” Upon her request, Laul recounted, a constable went to Richard’s house and confirmed that he was there. When Laul inquired about when and how long Richard had been released, she wrote, the inspector in-charge at the police station said, “That I don’t know, ma’am, because there is no paper work. The high court has not sent us its parole order. So we have no idea that he was out or who passed the order or when.” At the time, neither the police officers nor Laul and Mansuri knew whether he was released on parole, furlough or for any other reason. Laul and Mansuri discovered that Richard was granted furlough only after the office of the inspector general of prisons (IGP) provided them with a copy of the order on 1 December.
Laul told me that she and Mansuri met TS Bisht, the additional deputy general of prisons of Gujarat on 1 December at his office. They requested Bisht to cancel Richard’s furlough. According to Laul, Bisht told her that the furlough could only be cancelled by the inspector general of prisons (IGP), BS Jebaliya, who had granted the release.
Jebaliya, whose office was adjacent to that of Bisht, was not in office that day, Laul said. When she reached out to him over phone, he told her that he would look into the issue but couldn’t schedule a meeting with her. However, the IGP office provided the copy of the order to Laul and Mansuri. “I feel that I have no protection from state and there is no regard for it,” Laul told me. Despite repeated attempts, Jebaliya did not respond to my calls. Nor did he respond to messages that I sent, enquiring about the reasons for which Richard was granted furlough, and why the police was not informed of it.
The Prisons (Bombay Furlough and Parole) Rules, 1959, govern the grant of parole and furlough in Gujarat. These rules prescribe the manner in which furlough can be granted if a prisoner requests it, and according to them, the prison authorities and the court were not obliged to release Richard. For instance, Rule 4 includes criterion for prisoners who “shall not be considered for release on furlough.” This includes prisoners “who show a tendency towards crime” and “prisoners convicted of offences of violence against persons.” Further, the authorities did not comply with the safeguards that are imposed by the rules. Rule 14 also directs that when any prisoner is released on furlough, the superintendent of prisons must send an intimation of their release to the district superintendent of police of the district where the prisoner would spend the duration of their temporary release. Rule 17 of the prison rules expressly states that, “nothing in these rules shall be construed as conferring a legal right on a prisoner to claim furlough.”
The order was issued on 24 October and remained valid for two months, during which period Richard could be released for 14 days. The order does not mention the basis on which the IGP granted furlough to Richard, nor does it make any reference to reported assault on Laul for which he was arrested in January this year, 24 days before his bail expired. It also directs him to report in person to the Sardarnagar police station once every day. According to the accounts that the police officers at the station gave to Laul and Mansuri, this would imply that by not reporting to the station, Richard is in violation of his furlough order.
On 30 November, upon Mansuri’s request, an inspector at Sardarnagar police station issued her an acknowledgment letter stating that the station had not received any intimation of Richard’s release from Sabarmati Central Jail. Laul said that if Sardarnagar police officers had not received any letter from the jail authorities regarding Richard’s release, they were not bound to monitor his movement.
In 2012, when Richard was convicted, he had put up a strange defence before the court—he claimed that he could not have raped a Muslim woman since he was his wife is Muslim. His wife, Mansuri told me, was a Muslim when she had eloped with Richard around 20 years ago. “She was just 15 then,” Mansuri said. She added that Richard’s wife said he married her as an act of revenge. According to Richard’s wife, Mansuri said, he had been harbouring a grudge against Muslims after his sister eloped with a Muslim man. The lawyer added that Richard’s wife said that Richard raped her repeatedly after they were married, and would tell her that it was his revenge against Muslims.
In 2007, journalists from the magazine Tehelka conducted a sting operation in which Richard was caught on camera bragging about the murder and assault he committed during the 2002 riots. While recounting how he murdered a scrap dealer’s daughter, Richard told the Tehelka reporter Ashish Khetan, “that juicy plump one… I got on top… then I pulped her and made her into a pickle.” The court noted in its judgment that Richard’s “tremendous hatred against Muslims is very much on record and that it cannot be believed that because of his so called marriage with a Muslim girl, the accused has been victimized.”
Mansuri and Laul told me that they planned to move the Gujarat High Court to have Richard’s furlough cancelled. Meanwhile, Laul said that she would have to go into hiding even though her job does not allow her to stay in one place for very long. Mansuri said that Richard’s wife has temporarily shifted to an undisclosed location.
Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.