Ahmedabad: A trial court in Gujarat has convicted 32 people and acquitted 29 others in the Naroda Patiya massacre case which took place during the 2002 Gujarat riots. In a major blow to the Narendra Modi government, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Naroda, Maya Kodnani, and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, too, have been convicted in the case.
Kodnani, who is the first BJP leader to be convicted in a riot case, was the sitting MLA when the Naroda Patiya massacre in which 97 people were killed on February 28, 2002 took place. She and Bajrangi have been convicted under Indian Penal Code Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder). The sections under which Kodnani and Bajrangi have been convicted carry the minimum sentence of life term and the maximum is death.
The Naroda Patiya massacre is the largest single case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out following the Sabarmati Express train carnage near Godhra station. The case has been probed by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT).
As many as 327 witnesses, comprising eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials, forensic experts and journalists including Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, were examined by the court.
Initially, 46 people were arrested by the Gujarat Police, whereas 24 more people were apprehended after the probe was handed over to the SIT in 2008. In all, 70 people were arrested in the case.
Six persons died before the charges could be framed and trial started, while two others identified as Mohan Nepali and Tejas Pathak jumped bail and are still absconding.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad called it a landmark judgement, pointing out that for the first time political leaders have been convicted. "This is important that Babu Bajrangiand Maya Kodnani have been convicted. This is the first time that some judgement has implicated the political class. The testimony of the eyewitnesses helped in Kodnani's conviction and phone calls proved that she was at the locality," said Teesta.
Naroda Patiya massacre case trail started in August 2009 with 62 people being charged by the SIT. However, one of the accused, Vijay Shetty, died during the trial.
Politicians incited the mob: Eyewitness
Of the total 62 accused in the case, about 10 are in custody, and the remaining are out on bail.
Twenty five fresh arrests were made, including that of former BJP minister Maya Kodnani, after the SIT took over investigation in this case.
An eyewitness to the massacre, Bashir Khan Mansuri, says, "These leaders could have used their influence over people to stop the violence. Instead they incited the mobs. They should be punished according to the law."
Naroda Patiya is a high profile case, not only because 97 people were killed right in the heart of Ahmedabad, but also because top politicians like Maya Kodnani were involved.
Survivors who have lost their family members say that the only consolation is exemplary punishment for those who committed the crime.
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