The Gujarat High Court on Monday started dictating its order on appeals filed in the 2002 post-Godhra riots case of Sardarpura village in Mehsana district where 33 members of a minority community were burnt alive. On November 9, 2011, a Special Court in Mehsana had awarded life imprisonment to 31 persons for the massacre and acquitted 42 others.
A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav started dictated its order on appeals filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the state government challenging the acquittals. Some of the victims have also challenged the trial court’s order acquitting 14 of the accused persons, claiming there was enough evidence against them.
The dictation will go on for a few days before the order is pronounced. On Monday, the HC focused, among other things, on submissions made by the SIT special prosecutor challenging the rejection of “conspiracy theory” by the trial court. The HC dictated submissions of the SIT claiming the sequence of events suggested it was “a clear case of conspiracy”.
The Supreme Court-appointed SIT said a conspiracy was hatched by some local leaders to target members of a minority community of Sardarpura in Vijapur taluka on the intervening nights of February 28 and March 1, 2002, in reaction to the February 27 Godhra train burning incident that left people 59 dead.
As per SIT submissions, villagers started gathering at the Panchayat office from around 9.30 PM on February 28, 2002, as part of a conspiracy. Between 11.30 PM and 2.30 AM on the intervening night of February 28 and March 1, the mob torched the house of one Ibrahim Sheikh and stood there to ensure nobody could rescue people shouting for help.
According to SIT, if the witnesses did not touch upon the conspiracy aspect, it was because they were mentally traumatised when examined in the trial court. Lawyers linked to the case said the dictation will go on for a few days during which submissions made by government pleader, counsel of victims and the defence will be noted. Out of the 42 acquitted, 11 were freed due to lack of evidence and 31 were given benefit of doubt.
On the fateful night, a violent mob targeted a minority population of the village who took shelter in the ‘pucca’ house of Sheikh. The mob torched the house after pouring petrol, killing 33 people, including 22 women. In all, 76 people were made accused, of which two died during pendency of the trial, while one was a minor against whom proceedings are on in a juvenile court. The Special Court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009.