A convict’s relative weeps after the verdict in Anand on Monday. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, April 9: A Gujarat court today convicted 23 of the 46 accused in a 2002 riot case in which a mob torched a house where four families had taken shelter, killing 23 people.
The court in Anand district will hand down the sentences on April 12 in the so-called “Ode massacre” or “Pirawali massacre”, one of the nine cases probed by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team (SIT).
This is the third Gujarat riot case whose verdict has been announced, after the Godhra train fire case and the Sardarpura massacre in Mehsana district.
Rights activists rued the 23 acquittals, saying the SIT had not pursued the case “vigorously” enough.
On March 1, 2002, a mob of 2,000 locked the doors of a house from outside at Pirawali Bhagol in Ode, Anand. They threw burning rags and kerosene and petrol pouches inside the house. Six people who escaped by jumping off the roof said there were 23 others, including nine women and nine children, inside. The remains of only two could be found; the remaining 21 were presumed dead.
All the accused were from the powerful Patel community. Some among the convicts have served as chairmen of the village cooperative bank and credit society. Four were leading tobacco traders.
The massacre was followed by another killing a day later. By March 2, most of the Muslims had fled the village but Ghulam Rasool Saiyed, 80, was too weak to leave. Members of the funeral procession of Nishit Patel, a youth killed in police firing, threw Saiyed into the burning pyre.
Of the 47 accused of murder, conspiracy, rioting, unlawful assembly and other offences, one died during the trial. All the 14 accused of Saiyed’s murder were acquitted of that crime but seven of them have been convicted of the Pirawali killings. All the accused had been out on bail but the 23 convicts were taken back into custody today.
Shoddy police investigations had led the case to be handed over to the SIT, but the latter neither registered a fresh FIR nor collected new evidence, a rights activist alleged. “It is evident the SIT did not intend to pursue the investigation vigorously,” Mukhtar Ahmed said.
But public prosecutor P.N. Parmar said: “This is a big achievement for the prosecution. After all, 23 out of 46 means 50 per cent conviction.” He said the prosecution had itself told the court there was no evidence against 12 accused.
The trial had begun in end-2009 and was on the verge of completion when the then judge resigned in May 2011 citing personal reasons. All the arguments had to be made afresh before the new judge.
The first verdict in a riot case came in February last year, with 31 convicted of torching the Godhra train. Eleven were sentenced to death and 20 were handed life terms. In November, 31 people were convicted and given life terms for burning 33 to death in Sardarpura.