Jaipur: The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to 17 convicts in the 2002 Sardarpura massacre and 14 convicts in the Ode village massacre, who had appealed against the high court order upholding their conviction.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde ordered the convicts to undertake social service while out on bail and also tasked the Madhya Pradesh administration with finding the convicts work to earn a livelihood.
Unhappy with the bail orders, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who has worked on this case, termed the development “unfortunate”.
On February 28, 2002, in Sardarpura, a mob comprising local Hindus burnt kiosks owned by Muslims. Anticipating another attack, the police were called the following day.
Again, a mob from nearby villages led by Hindutva activists gathered in Sardarpura at around 9:30 pm and attacked all the three Muslim localities (of Pathans, Sheikhs and Memons) in Sardarpura. The two sub-inspectors present in the village when the attack began,made an excuse and left from the spot.
To save themselves, 31 Muslims – mostly women and children – hid in a house in the Sheikh locality. However, when the mob discovered them, they locked all of them in a room and threw acid on them from outside. They also shoved an iron rod, attached to the loose end of a live wire, inside the room, which electrocuted and killed 29 of them.
The mob even blocked roads to prevent Muslims from escaping. The superintendent of police, A Gehlot, reached the spot at about 2.30 am and took the survivors to Sawala village.
The FIR had named Chandra Kant, a Bajrang Dal activist, as the prime accused.
Unhappy at the failure of the Narendra Modi-led state government to properly investigate cases where Muslims had been killed in large numbers, the Supreme Court in 2008 said that the cases of Godhra, Gulberg Society, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaon, Sardarpura, Ode, Dipda Darwaza needed to be re-investigated, and recommended the formation of a special investigation team (SIT).
Out of the 76 accused arrested in the Sardarpura case, 31 were convicted by a special riots court, including the then sarpanch of Sardarpura, Kachrabhai Tribhovandas Patel and a former sarpanch Kanubhai Joitaram Patel, who were affiliated with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)
Of the accused, 31 were acquitted over the benefit of the doubt, and 11 were discharged. Two of the remaining accused died while the trial was underway while one was tried as a juvenile. Later, the high court upheld the conviction of 17.
A few days after the train burning incident at Godhra took place, a mob of Hindus led by political activists attacked dozens of Muslim homes in Gujarat’s Ode village. When the Muslims took refuge in a house, the mob set it on fire.
Twenty-seven Muslims were killed in three separate incidents at Ode village; 26 were burnt alive on March 1, 2002, in the Piravali Bhagol area and Mal Bhagol area and one more was killed on the streets the next day in the Surivali Bhagol area in the village.
Only two bodies were recovered from the house while the rest were so severely burnt that they couldn’t be identified. The police later declared them missing.
Two FIRs relating to the incidents of the first day were filed, by Rafiq Mohammed Abdulbhai Khalifa and Rehanaben Yusuf Bhai Vohra, at the Khambolaj police station. However, no FIR was lodged about the torching of Ghulam Rasool Miya on March 2, 2002.
Forty-one accused persons were arrested in both cases but were granted bail almost immediately. Even the remand application was rejected by the first class judicial magistrate, Umreth. A revision of the remand application was made in the sessions court, Anand district; however, the court,released the sixteen accused on regular bail while the revision was still pending.
In 2011, 23 accused persons were convicted out of which 18 were given life sentences and the remaining were sentenced to imprisonment of seven years for offences punishable under sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) read with sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), as well as sections 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly) 144 (unlawful assembly armed with any deadly weapon), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting armed with a deadly weapon), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 435 (mischief by fire or any explosive substance with intent to cause damage to amount of one hundred rupees or ten rupees in case of agricultural produce, 436 (mischief by fire or any explosive substance with intent to destroy house), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) and 440 (mischief committed after preparation for causing death or hurt) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
In 2018, the high court upheld the conviction of 19 persons, including 14 who had been sentenced to life imprisonment.