The punishment in the second biggest of the communal killings that followed the Godhra train carnage of February 27, 2002, handed out Friday in the Gulberg society massacre, looked all sound and fury as 11 of the 24 convicts got life terms for the murder of 69 residents of this society including the former Congress MP Ahsan Jafri. While 12 got seven years, of which two will walk free because they have been in jail since 10 years.
The Special Investigating Team (SIT) which was set up by the Supreme Court, had sought death for them even as the victims pleaded for maximum punishment, but not capital punishment.
Gulberg was the eighth of the nine cases being reinvestigated by the SIT to be tried in special courts set up on orders and under the supervision of the Supreme Court on a petition by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that free and fair trial was not possible in Gujarat.
Gulberg massacre verdict: 11 convicted for murder given life sentences
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The verdict in the Gulberg case is far different from the Naroda Patiya killings, considered the worst of the post-Godhra bloodshed, where 97 persons were killed and the court had named a sitting BJP MLA and former minister in the then Narendra Modi government, Maya Kodnani, as “kingpin” and awarded her life sentence for 28 years, apart from 31 others.
In the Gulberg case, the court did not find enough evidence to corroborate the conspiracy clause, which would have meant that the killings were pre-planned.
The defence has argued, based on findings by SIT, that Jafri fired from his licenced gun on the mob, as the immediate provocation for the mob turning violent.
The Naroda Patiya incident saw a similar narrative of a truck having run over Hindus which the defence argued as having provoked the violence, but the court upheld that the killings were pre-planned and identified a kingpin.
Since the Naroda Patiya verdict, the Gujarat government has already changed its mind about the severity of Kodnani’s role, advising the SIT against pleading for death sentence, even as it was in favour of death to nine of the convicts in 2013, before Gujarat high court. The apex court, in fact has stayed Kodnani’s exclusive and expeditious hearing appealing against her conviction and sentence last year before the HC, on the ground that she was accused of criminal conspiracy as well.
Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who face life term till death in the Naroda Patiya case, are also facing trial in the Naroda Gaam case, in which 11 people died, which is the last of the SIT cases pending in court.
Between the two verdicts, the NGO run by Teesta Setalvad, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has run into trouble with authorities. A day before the Gulberg sentencing the FCRA to the Sabrang trust Setalvad runs, was cancelled.
Zakia Jafri, who lost her husband, a prominent citizen, in this massacre, continues to fight another legal battle having challenged the clean chit given to Prime minister Narendra Modi who was chief minister in 2002 by the same SIT.