AHMEDABAD • An Indian court yesterday jailed 11 Hindus for life over the massacre of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat state 14 years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister.
The court sentenced 12 others to seven years in jail over the deaths of 69 Muslims who were hacked and burned to death in a residential complex in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, among them women and children. Another was given a 10- year term for rioting and arson.
The massacre at the Gulbarg Society housing complex was one of the single worst losses of life in the week-long violence that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Several Muslim families had taken shelter in the complex when it was stormed by a mob of attackers angered by the deaths of Hindus in a train fire. Ms Zakia Jafri, whose husband was killed in the massacre and who has campaigned for those responsible to be brought to justice, said the sentences were too lenient.
"After all the horrible things they did to so many people, they still gave such flimsy sentences," she told reporters. "I do not like this at all. The law has done grave injustice to me."
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for all 24 convicted, arguing that those targeted were all "innocent people". "We had pleaded before the court that if you are not convinced about giving the death penalty, at least give life term till the end of life to all the accused," said public prosecutor R.C. Kodekar after the sentencing. "So (the judgment) is not at all satisfactory. It is lenient and inadequate."
More than 100 people have already been convicted over the riots, including one of Mr Modi's former state ministers who was jailed for instigating some of the killings. Ms Jafri has said her husband, a former opposition Congress party lawmaker, repeatedly called police for help, but nobody came. She is fighting a separate legal battle demanding that Mr Modi and others be held responsible for failing to stop the riots.
The riots have long dogged Mr Modi, who was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence as chief minister. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012 by a Supreme Court-ordered investigation.
The violence was triggered by the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire on Feb 27, 2002, that was initially blamed on Muslims. Hindus bent on revenge rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in some of India's worst religious riots since independence from Britain and Partition in 1947.
More than 300 witnesses gave evidence at the trial that began in 2009 but was delayed by legal challenges. Several of the accused have since died. Police were deployed in large numbers at the court in Ahmedabad ahead of the sentencing.