Gujarat massacre: 18 get life sentence
A designated Special Investigation Team (SIT) court in Gujarat on Thursday pronounced the quantum of sentence in the Ode massacre case in which 23 people were found guilty of killing 23 Muslims in the Ode town of central Gujarat during the 2002 riots.
Judge Poonam Singh punished 18 persons, guilty of murder, with life imprisonment and five others, guilty of attempt to murder, with seven-year jail term. The charges of conspiracy, rioting, arson, unlawful assembly, destruction of evidence etc were common to all 23 convicts. All the convicts were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment.
The accused remained silent and calm in the courtroom when the judge pronounced quantum of punishment.
The 18 convicts punished with life imprisonment were also fined with Rs 5800. The other five were slapped with a penalty of Rs 3800 under various sections. The verdict triggered a stir among the relatives of the convicts gathered in the Anand court campus. The entire campus was in an uproar as the agitated relatives shouted slogans against the judiciary and Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Women took the front and the SRP personnel were called in to disperse the mob.
However, the relatives of the convicts continued to protest in the court campus. While a family claimed alibi for a convict, a girl Dhruti Patel said that her father, Dilip Vinu Patel, was mentally unstable and was wrongly implicated in the case.
The defence lawyers Ashwin Dhagad and CK Patel were content with the sentence. "The court has rejected prosecution's demand for capital punishment, and upheld our arguments that this incident does not fall in the category of the rarest of the rare category," Dhagad said. However, they said they would challenge the verdict in the state high court.
On the other hand, witnesses' lawyer Irshad Mansuri expressed his dissatisfaction with the punishment handed out in one of the major post-Godhra riots cases. "The court upheld the conspiracy charge in this case. And no death sentence for killing hapless women and children with pre-planned conspiracy is a surprise for me. We will challenge this in higher court," he said.
Special prosecutor PN Parmar said that the SIT would decide on appealing for death sentence after perusal of the court order.
The Ode massacre was one of nine sensitive 2002 riot cases that the Supreme Court had asked the SIT to probe. 23 Muslims were burnt alive, in a house in Pirwali Bhagol in which they had taken shelter on March 1, 2002, by an agitated mob of more than 1,500 people. Most of the dead were women and children. All 23 persons found guilty belong to the Patel community that is dominant in this part of Gujarat.
The Ode massacre is the third case in the last 10 years, where a special court has pronounced a verdict after the SIT probed it. The first verdict came in the Sabarmati Express carnage at Godhra, which triggered the riots, after 59 people, mainly kar sevaks, were killed. Of the 31 people found guilty, 11 were given death sentence and 20 others life imprisonment terms. In the other case - the Sardarpura massacre in north Gujarat (33 people were killed)- the court sentenced 31 people to life imprisonment and acquitted 42 others.
- Asian Tribune -