A special court on Thursday convicted 24 people in the massacre of scores of Muslims in Ahmedabad when communal riots triggered by the burning of a train carrying Hindu activists swept through Gujarat in 2002.
The killing of 69 people including then Congress MP Ehsan Jafri in the predominantly-Muslim Gulberg Society colony on February 28, 2002 was one of the worst single incidents in the days-long riots that left more than 1,000 people dead in the state.
Out of 66 accused in the case, the court acquitted 36 for lack of evidence. Five accused died during the trial period and one went missing.
The court, which convicted eleven of murder and 13 for other crimes, will deliver the quantum of punishment on June 6. 59 accused were present in court when the judgment was pronounced.
The convicted included Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Atul Vaidh and Congress councillor Meghji Chaudhary. Former police inspector KG Irda, who was initially the complainant in the case and then made an accused, was also acquitted.
“The defence argument that the mob was instigated after Ehsan Jafri opened fire killing one person and injuring 14 must have held water and that is why the conspiracy theory has been rejected,” said defence lawyer Abhay Bhardwaj.
Prosecution lawyer SM Vora, however, said that since 11 accused have been convicted for murder “capital punishment can be sought”.
After the trial in the case ended in September, the Supreme Court allowed the special investigation team (SIT) court to pronounce its judgment, setting a May 31 deadline.
More than 300 witnesses gave evidence in the case, one of the nine probed by the SIT formed on directions of the Supreme Court.
Zakia Jafri, the slain Congress MP’s wife expressed dismay over the verdict.
“Mujhe aur jaddojahad karna padega…mera case khatam nahi hua (I will have to make more efforts...the case is not over for me yet).”
“Of (the) 66 accused, 36 have been acquitted. Justice has been only (been) half delivered,” said Zakia, who travelled to Ahmedabad from Surat for the judgment.
She is likely to appeal against the verdict in higher courts.
Gujarat BJP president Vijay Rupani termed the verdict a “setback for the Congress as its conspiracy to hold Narendra Modi and the BJP responsible for the incident has fallen flat”.
“Modi has been given a clean, Amit Shah has been cleared of the charges and Gujarat is the only state where convictions in riot cases are taking place. On the other hand, victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots are still waiting for justice.”
Among the acquitted was Bipin Patel, a 44-year-old BJP councillor who was seen as the main conspirator by many.
“It was a very unfortunate incident. But I would maintain that it was a spontaneous reaction of an angry mob,” he said, referring to the death of 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt a day earlier in Godhra.
Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela reiterated the party’s charge that “the riots cases across Gujarat…including Gulberg…was a conspiracy by the BJP to stay in power”.
Here is the timeline of the case
Gulberg society case
- February 28, 2002: Muslim dominated Gulberg Society is attacked by a mob leaving 69 people dead, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri.
- June 8, 2006: Zakia Jafri, wife of Ehsan Jafri, submits a complaint, alleging the police did not register FIRs against Narendra Modi and 62 others, including senior ministers.
- March 26, 2008: The Supreme Court orders state government to re-investigate 9 riots cases, including the Gulberg case.
- April 27, 2009: The top court asks SIT to look into Zakia’s complaint over Modi’s alleged role.
- March 27-28, 2010: SIT questions Modi.
- April 10, 2012: SIT submits report, says no proof to substantiate the allegations against Modi.
- April 18, 2013: Zakia Jafri files protest petition in the metropolitan court challenging SIT’s clean chit to Modi and closure report by the SIT.
- October 28, 2013: Magisterial court defers verdict.
- December 26, 2013: Order on Zakia Jafri’s petition rejected. SIT’s closure report upheld.
- March 18, 2014: Zakia Jafri moved the Gujarat high court challenging the magisterial court verdict, which accepted the SIT report on clean chit to chief minister Narendra Modi.
- September 22, 2015: Special court concludes trial for Gulberg Society massacre.
- June 2, 2016: 24 accused convicted, 36 acquitted by Ahmedabad high court. BJP councillor Bipin Patel, among key accused, acquitted. Quantum of punishment to be announced on June 6.