Eleven Indian Muslims have been sentenced to death by a court in Gujarat for setting fire in 2002 to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, amongst them a contingent of supporters of a fundamentalist political party. Some 60 people were killed in that fire which led to communal rioting that saw over 2,000 civilians systematically massacred. Those orchestrating the massacre have managed to escape responsibility.
63 other accused were acquitted while some 20 were given life sentences. Here is a timeline of the case. All accused had been detained since 2002.
The sentence was awarded as Indian Muslims across the world commemorated the 9th anniversary of the Gijarat pogrom.
Here is an excerpt from an AlJazeera report:
Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister and a prominent member of the BJP, was accused of failing to stop the riots, and even of encouraging them.
Gujarat officials have denied the claims.
Last month an Indian supreme court panel criticised Modi for his "partisan" handling of the unrest, but found no evidence to justify criminal prosecution of him.
A national enquiry into the fire concluded the fire was an accident, but other official investigations have differed in their findings.
One prominent civil rights lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, questioned the verdict and the evidence used.
It is a totally wrong verdict, based on wrong evidence ... Though the sentenced persons can go to the higher courts, what is needed is a re-investigation. The case is based on wrong premise that warrants a re-investigation ... On any account, the sentenced persons cannot be charged with murder and conspiracy. At the worst, they should be charged for arson.
One of those acquitted was one Muslim religious scholar, Maulana Husain Umarji, who has been demonised by the Gujarati media. Here is what a columnist from The Hindu has to say about Maulana Umarji.
... the 70-plus maulvi became the monster that he remains now in the eyes of most of those who lost family members on the Sabarmati Express. The acquittal of 63 accused in the train burning case has annoyed them, but it is for the Maulana that they reserve their anger, citing his “role” in inciting the mob — as reported by the media. The tragedy is that the role played by the Maulana was exactly the opposite. It was only he who, after the burning of the train, expressed regret on behalf of his community, repeatedly and publicly. Again, he alone restrained the young Ghanchi Muslims whose blood boiled at the sight of raped and battered Muslims pouring into the relief camps in Godhra during the massacres which followed the Godhra train-burning, and who itched to retaliate against the police for their continuous combing operations in Muslim localities after the incident.
Anil Dharker writing in the Hindustan Times also has some pertinent things to say about the verdict.
On the face of it, the judgement seems to contradict itself. As we now know, 31 people were convicted for criminal conspiracy, while 63 were acquitted. Significantly of the 63, there were two people, Maulvi Hussain Umarji and the then president of the municipality, Billal Hussain Kalota, who were accused to be the main conspirators. If your main conspirators are innocent, how can you have a conspiracy?
Can't argue with that.
Words © 2011 Irfan Yusuf