Just over a decade after two dozen Muslims were massacred in Ode during the 2002 riots in Gujarat,a specially appointed court on Monday convicted 23 people from the Patel community while acquitting 23 for want of evidence. One of the accused died during the trial.
Of the 23 convicted,19 have been found guilty of murder and conspiracy and the rest of attempt to murder along with allied criminal charges. This is the first post-Godhra riots case in which the court has upheld the charge of conspiracy against the accused. The quantum of sentence will be announced on April 12.
One of the convicts,Dharmeshkumar Natubhai Patel,was elected vice-president of the Ode nagarpalika on April 4. Sadru Khan Pathan,a former nagapalika vice-president,said,Dharmeshkumar was elected as an independent candidate. He has not yet assumed office.
Additional Sessions Judge Poonam Singh kept the media out of the courtroom as she pronounced verdicts on two separate incidents that occurred in Ode on March 1 and 2,2002.
While 23 people were burnt alive by a mob on March 1,an 80-year-old man was set on fire the next day as a mob gathered following the funeral of a Patel boy killed in police firing.
All the 14 accused in the murder of the 80-year-old,Gulam Rasool Saiyed,were acquitted by the court.
In the March 1 case,the mob locked a three-storey building where fleeing Muslims had taken shelter,and set it on fire after throwing in plastic pouches filled with petrol and kerosene. Only two bodies could be recovered,that of Sikandar Malek and his two-year-old daughter Guddi. The rest are missing,and thought to be dead. Among them are nine children and nine women.
The Khambholaj police initially registered a single FIR for both cases. However,the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team separated the cases and chargesheeted 14 of the 46 accused in the March 1 case separately. The high court upheld this subsequently.
The prosecution examined 158 witnesses,35 of whom turned hostile. Of the 46 accused,14 were in jail; the rest out on bail.