Post-Godhra killers get life sentence

Special court acquits 42 in ghastly 2002 Sardarpura riots case
Last Updated 09 November 2011, 20:20 IST

Of the 73 accused in the case, the court acquitted 42 persons of whom 11 were freed because of lack of evidence while 31 given the benefit of doubt.

While pronouncing the verdict, Principal District and Sessions judge S C Srivastva directed the 31 convicts to deposit Rs 50,000 each, which will be paid as a compensation to the family of the victims.

The convicts were also awarded imprisonment to terms ranging from three months to 10 years under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. All the sentences will run concurrently.

An additional fine of over Rs 20,000 each was also imposed on all the convicts and their punishment would extended by up to six months if they fail to deposit the amount.
The court ordered the 31 people, who were given the benefit of doubt, to submit a solvency bond of Rs 25,000 each and directed them not to leave country without its permission.

“This is a historic success. Never before in the history of the trial of communal riots cases in the country these many people have been sentenced. It has not happened in Bhagalpur or even in the Best Bakery case,” former state Director General of Police R B Sreekumar, who fought on behalf of the riot victims, said after the verdict.

This is the first of the nine post-Godhra riots cases probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) on which the verdict was pronounced. “It is a very satisfying verdict. I am happy with it. It is the result of hard work put in by my officers. I don’t know if it is the biggest ever conviction in the riot case but 31 people convicted for life imprisonment is a sizeable number,” SIT chairman R K Raghavan said.
On a question whether the SIT would challenge the acquittal, Raghavan said, “We would be examining the text of the order before taking a decision on the issue.”

Arguing over the quantum of the sentence, defence counsel H M Dhruv said the accused were convicted collectively and not on the count of individual involvement.

“Not a single accused has been convicted of an individual offence but they have been convicted collectively for being a part of the unlawful assembly that committed the murders. Hence they should not be awarded maximum punishment,” he said.

“The convicts are from the rural area of Sardarpura village and farmers by profession. They are illiterate and considering the mood in the state after the Godhra train-burning incident, they need to be given minimum punishment,” Dhruv argued.

Special public prosecutor S P Shah, however, opposed the contentions, saying the accused committed a heinous crime in which innocent unarmed people were brutally killed. Seeking capital punishment for all the convicts, Shah said, “As per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, this incident (Sardarpura riot) fa­lls under the ‘rarest of rare’ ca­tegory and there sh­ould be no leniency for the convicts.”

Y B Sheikh, a la­wyer repres­e­nting the victims, said they had suffered a great loss as they lo­st their family members in the incident.

Demanding compensation, Sheikh said the victims were not able to stay in their own ho­uses as they still fear for their life.

The Sardarpura riot was one of the ghastly crimes unleashed in the aftermath of the Godhra train-burning incident in 2002. After the Godhra train burning incident, in which 59 people were burnt to death on February 27, 2002, riots broke out across Gujarat in which Sardarpura town in Vijapur taluka also fell prey to violence.

A mob surrounded a lane called ‘Sheikh vaas’ on the intervening night of February 28 and March 1, 2002, where members of the minority population of the village lived.
Fearing the worst, people of the minority community took shelter in a house owned by one Ibrahim Sheikh. After dousing the house with petrol, the mob torched the house, in which 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.

Of the 76 arrested persons, two died during pendency of the trial, while one was a juvenile who was tried in the juvenile court. The court framed charges against 73 accused persons in June 2009 and initiated trial during which time the prosecution alleged that the attack on members of the minority community was pre-planned and the conspiracy was hatched by some local leaders after the Godhra incident.

While the prosecution cl­aimed that weapons were distributed to the people who participated in the crime, the defence pointed out that the accused persons were falsely implicated and that the viol­ence was perpetrated by outsiders.

(Published 09 November 2011, 08:39 IST)

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