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.
Umarji’s bail pleas were turned down by the POTA court, the Gujarat High Court, and the Supreme Court, before he was finally acquitted by a special court in Ahmedabad.
Some time before he was taken into custody, Umarji had received a letter from the Panchmahals collector handing him the management of a government-sponsored riots relief camp, said A A Hasan, his defence counsel.
“Maulana Umarji had organised a relief camp in Godhra for riot victims even before the government organised its own camp. He would passionately discuss community problems and try to resolve them in his own way,” Hasan said.
“He was the first person to set up a relief camp after the devastating Kutch earthquakes of 2001,” said Firdous Kothi, president of the Ghanchi Muslim community in Panchmahals.
Salluddin Gurji, a riot victim from a village in Morva Hadaf near Godhra, recalled Umarji’s work at a camp. “Military personnel took us to Godhra. The district administration did not know how to deal with us, so asked religious leaders to organise relief camps. Umarji passionately took up the cause,” he said.