Indian court hands out 31 life sentences for race riot murders

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Smoke rises as nearby Ahmedabad burns during the riots
Image: Aksi great.

A court in Gujarat, India has convicted 31 Hindus of murdering 33 Muslims during a race riot by burning down the building they were sheltering in. The convicts were given life sentences, while lack of evidence saw more than 40 others cleared.

The case dates back to 2002, when a train caught fire and 60 Hindus died. Muslims were blamed and Hindus seeking revenge rioted in predominantly Muslim areas. Over 1,000 died, mostly Muslims. 28 died inside a house in Sardarpura, Mehsana which was torched whilst they sought refuge inside it, with five more dying later from injuries sustained.

Since then, the tale has had many legal twists.

Gujarat's local government launched an inquiry which declared the train fire was the culmination of "conspiracy" and fueled by 140 litres of petrol, and cleared the state's Hindu Chief Minister Narendra Modi — who had faced accusations of complicity in the ensuing riots — of wrongdoing. A federal government probe followed, reaching the conclusion the railway fire was unintentional and probably sparked by a cooking accident as Hindu pilgrims returned from Ayodhya. Ayodhya, too, has seen large race riots against Muslims after a breakaway group of Hindus destroyed a mosque in 1992 . Thousands died.

The Supreme Court got involved in 2003. The court ruled Gujarat had failed to provide a suitable criminal response. Nine cases were ordered to be fast-tracked, including the Sardarpura fire case. A Special Investigating Team was formed at the court's direction. Two of the accused have died in the course of the trial, with the convictions following guilty verdicts in February on 31 suspects accused of murdering the train fire victims; 63 were exonerated by the court.

As well as murder, the 31 Hindus have been convicted of attempted murder, arson, rioting, and criminal conspiracy. They can appeal.