Godhra attack accused, later acquitted, he ‘never got over his jail term’


He was looked upon as a father figure by many Muslims in Godhra. For a time, he was also held responsible for the event that earned this small town so much notoriety — the burning of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002, an attack that killed 59 people, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, and the trigger for the statewide riots that followed.

Maulvi Husain Haji Ibrahim Umarji, 70, simply Maulana Umarji to his admirers, died this weekend at his home in Godhra. His family says he was still suffering from the blot to his reputation.

Umarji, named the prime accused in the Sabarmati attack, was acquitted after serving eight years in jail, a term his son describes as slow poison. Suffering from hypertension and diabetes, he was unwell since his acquittal on February 22, 2011.

"He was suffering because of the false charges heaped upon him, and the way the media projected him after he was held as the alleged mastermind of the Godhra train burning," said his son Saeed Umarji, a timber merchant. "The jail term acted as slow poison and he could never get over hypertension. He appeared suffocated from within, always questioning what his fault was that he should have been treated that way."

Thousands turned up at the funeral, say members of the Ghanchi Muslim community. Umarji owed much of his following to community service; he attended personally to hundreds of people at relief camps after the Bhuj earthquake and during the riots, including one camp he organised himself.

Umarji was picked up on February 6, 2003, after one of the Godhra accused, Sikandar Sheikh, 18, alleged that Umarji had been on the spot when the train was set on fire. His statement, he claimed, was based on what he had heard from another accused, Bilal Haji Ismail Sujela. Umarji's followers say it was an allegation made out of political rivalry, while asserting that the maulana himself had never cherished any political ambitions.

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