Ahmedabad: Calling Gulberg massacre the “darkest day” in the history of civil society, a special SIT court yesterday awarded life term to 11 convicts for burning alive 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, in one of the worst riots post-Godhra violence in 2002.
Family members of the convicts after the sentence was announced
However, the judgement left the prosecution, Jafri’s widow Zakia and civil rights activists disappointed saying it was lenient on the perpetrators. Rejecting the demand for death sentence for all the convicts, the court said life imprisonment for the 11 will be till death if the state does not exercise power to remit the sentence, which Special court Judge P B Desai said was not necessary.
Gulberg society massacre convicts being taken away from the SIT court in Ahmedabad. Pics/PTI
It awarded a 10-year jail term to one of the 13 convicted for lesser offences while the other 12 have been given a seven-year sentence each. The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given death penalty.
While giving reasons on why he thought that this was not a fit case to give capital punishment to the convicts, the judge said that post the incident, 90% of the accused were released on bail. Yet no complaints against them have been given even by victims, and there is no record to show that they committed any offence during the time of bail, the judge further said.
The Gulberg Society massacre, took place on February 28, 2002 when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister. A mob of 400 people set about attacking the society in the heart of Ahmedabad and burnt alive its residents.
SIT to approach HC
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) counsel in the Gulberg case, R C Kodekar expressed dissatisfaction about thecourt’s verdict and announced they would approach the High Court, as he felt the sentence was too “lenient.” Gulberg is one of the nine cases that were investigated by Supreme Court appointed SIT, headed by former CBI chief R K Raghavan.
Zakia Jafri, wife of late MP Ehsan Jafri
I was there in the society when the violent mob brutally killed my husband (Ehsan Jafri). He was an MP, yet he was hacked to death and burnt alive in the middle of road. Today’s verdict is not sufficient for such crime. I wished that court had given lifer to all of them who were involved in the crime.
Teesta Setalvad, activist-lawyer
We had a strong case that these convicts were part of a wilfully armed mob that was on attack from 9 am right up to 5 pm. There is no reason for such leniency in sentence. In that sense, it is disappointing.
Bharat Pandya, Gujarat BJP spokesperson
The court's verdict was given without any influence. It is natural that people from both the sides, accused as well as victims, may not like it. They all can approach high court.