A Kanpur court on Wednesday sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment all 15 accused of burning 11 persons alive in a house during riots in the city on December 12, 1992, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid a few days earlier.
The victims were all Muslims, hiding in a house owned by a Hindu who dared to give them shelter from the riotous mobs baying for blood.
Additional district and sessions judge SM Haseeb, overturning their acquittal by a fast track court in 2003, found them guilty of murder. The accused were also fined Rs 23,000 each.
Those held guilty were lawyer Pushpendra Yadav, retired bank manager Prem Narain Panday, Bihari Lal Gupta, Ratan Lal, Sripal and his brother Amarpal, Krishna Kumar Mishra, Rajan Sachan, Dependra Sachan, Raj Kumar and his brother-in-law Raj Kumar, Manoj, Nawal Kishore, Rajan and Ramashankar Gupta.
The verdict did not go down well with the lawyers who demonstrated inside the court several times, affecting work for several hours. The lawyers were agitated as Pushpendra Yadav was locked up in a sessions court cell. They alleged this was a violation of the privileges given to lawyers and raised slogans against the police.
The trial that stretched to 15 years saw 10 of 11 public witnesses turn hostile. But the judge relied on the statements of the policemen who had reached the scene of the crime. "They were unflinching throughout the trial and identified all the accused as those who led the mob and set the house on fire," said government counsel Vijai Agnihotri.
Police offiers Harsh Vardhan Nagaich, KP Sharma, RN Singh and others said they saw the accused and others set the house on fire. They also said they managed to rescue 19 persons but could not save the others.
The killings took place as communal frenzy engulfed the industrial city after the masjid demolition. On December 10, the violence spread to the calm but tense southern part of the city, claiming 48 lives, with 27 persons being roasted alive either on the streets or in their homes by rampaging mobs. In the midst of this hatred and violence, Mahesh Yadav, a resident of F-block in Gujaini locality, gave shelter to many Muslim families who had moved there stealthily during the 24-hour curfew.
The presence of Muslims in Yadav's house was leaked to the Hindu rioters and a red cross mark was made on his house to direct the mobs to it. Soon, the house was surrounded by a mob of about 4,000 killers. A police team reached the house but by then, it had already been set aflame. As an officer said, they could save 19 persons. The remaining 11 burned to death.