A special city court is on Thursday expected to pronounce its verdict in the Gulberg society massacre case in which 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, were killed in the communal frenzy that swept Gujarat n 2002.
The trial in the one of the worst incidents of communal violence to rock the western state ended in September 2015. The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the case, recently allowed the special investigation team (SIT) court to give its judgment, setting a May 31 deadline.
A mob carrying weapons allegedly attacked the predominantly Muslim cluster of 29 bungalows and 10 apartments here on February 28, 2002, a day after a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt down in nearby Godhra, killing 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya.
“Judge PB Desai is likely to pronounce only the judgment. For the quantum of punishment, the court is likely to give next date soon,” defence lawyer Abhay Bhardwaj said.
Of the 66 people chargesheeted, nine have been in judicial custody for 14 years. Five accused died during the trial period and the rest are out on bail. One of the accused, Bipin Patel, is a BJP councillor.
The massacre was planned to target the minority community members of the Gulberg society, victims’ lawyers have argued, demanding death for those responsible for the violence.
The defence countered the conspiracy theory, saying the mob turned violent after Jafri fired several rounds from his personal weapon.
The case history
Unhappy with the Gujarat Police investigation that chargesheeted 39 people, Jafri’s wife Zakia, backed by NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace, got the SC nod for an investigation by a SIT, led by former CBI chief RK Raghavan.
The SIT arrested 25 more people, filed eight charge sheets and submitted its report on March 15, 2012.
Desai is the third judge hearing the case.
Justice BU Joshi, who had examined all the evidence, couldn’t pronounce the judgment after it was withheld by the SC. Justice BJ Dhandha, too, retired before the top court lifted the stay.
The prosecution alleged that violence started at 8 am and continued till 5 pm. Armed with sharp weapons, a mob of around 1,000 people attacked the Gulberg society, lynched 69 residents, set properties on fire, raped women and fled with the loot. The violence was planned, it said.
The mob turned violent after indiscriminate firing by Jafri left a person dead, defence lawyers Abhay Bhardwaj and Rajendra Trivedi have claimed.
Charred remains of 35 people, including Jafri’s, were recovered and 31 people were missing. They were presumed dead after seven years.
With most houses damaged or burnt, the society has been abandoned but families of some of the victims gather there each year to offer prayers.
The Gulberg case is one of the nine 2002 Gujarat riot cases to be probed by the SC-appointed SIT.