A division bench of the Gujarat High Court on Friday upheld the conviction of 19 people and acquitted three others who were sentenced by a special trial court in the Ode massacre in Anand district during the 2002 post-Godhra riots. The court also confirmed the acquittal of 23 of the 47 accused sentenced by the trial court in 2012.
While pronouncing the verdict, the Division Bench of Justice Akil Kureshi and Justice B N Karia said that communal frenzy turns “perfectly normal human beings momentarily into murderous monsters, leaving nothing but a trail of death and destruction for the victims and his own family alike”. The judgment notes that although the court can’t reduce the “pain and agony of the relatives of the victims and accused,” it “tried to give judgment as soon as possible to at least reduce the anxiety arising out of the uncertainty.”
While reading out the operative portion of the judgment, Justice Kureshi said, “We have seen the senselessness of the violence and the loss of innocent human lives. We cannot imagine the pain suffered by the victims who perished in the raging fire. We cannot judge the depth of sorrow and despair that the members of the families of the victims would have felt while helplessly watching their relatives being killed in front of their eyes in most gruesome manner.”
The bench was also sympathetic towards the kin of the convicts who would throng the court for relief during the hearings. Justice Kureshi wrote in the order, “While we were hearing these appeals, we have also seen the kind of doom and despair that such incidents bring on the members of the families of the accused.”
“Everyday, we saw old ladies, young housewives with children in toes standing before us with folded hands, pleading for temporary release of their son, husband or father, citing reasons of death of a near relative, financial crisis in the family, serious illness of the children or such like and simply waiting for the outcome of these appeals,” the judgment stated.
It added that such observation was for the purpose of highlighting “the kind of sorrow and pain that such mindless and needless violence leaves behind”.
Those acquitted on Friday have been identified as Dilip V Patel, Punam L Patel and Natubhai M Patel. These were among the 18 sentenced for life imprisonment by the trial court for murder and conspiracy, while five others were convicted and sentenced to seven-year jail on the charges of attempt to murder and other small offence. These five convicts have already completed their prison terms and are out of jail.
One of the accused, who was convicted for life by the trial court, died during the pendency. The High Court bench on the whole upheld the finding of the trial court, including the acquittal of 23 other accused. In this case, all the accused belong to Leuva Patel community who used to live side by side with the Muslims in the village.
On March 1, 2002, two days after the Godhra train carnage, 23 Muslims were burnt alive in the Ode village in Anand district of central Gujarat. After the tension built up following the train carnage case in Godhra, the Hindu mob had started targeting their Muslim neighbourhoods. A group of Muslims took shelter in a three-storey building which was locked by the mob and set on fire .
The police could recover only two bodies, while the rest were turned into ashes. Among the victims were nine children and nine women. The next day, on March 2, 80-year-old villager Gulam Rasool Saiyed was also burnt alive by the mob. Police had lodged one FIR for the two separate incidents, but after litigation, two separate chargesheets were filed and the trial was concluded. In this case, all the 15 accused were acquitted, which has also been challenged.
The High Court didn’t entertain the appeal of the SIT, supported by the state government, seeking capital punishment for those found guilty of murder and conspiracy.
The court held that it was not the “rarest of the rare” case. The judgment stated that the accused didn’t have a criminal history and it didn’t find that the “accused are beyond reformation”.