Granting conditional bail to 14 men convicted in a 2002 Gujarat riots case in which 23 people were burnt alive in Ode in Anand district, the Supreme Court Tuesday ordered their relocation to Madhya Pradesh with the direction that they do social, spiritual and community work till a final decision is taken on their appeal against the conviction. The men were told not to enter Gujarat.
The Ode massacre was one of the nine most gruesome cases of the post-Godhra riots investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team. Among the 23 dead were eight children and six women.
On learning of the Supreme Court direction to relocate the convicts on conditional bail, Malek Mohammed Miyan Kasam Miyan (48), one of the witnesses in the case who lost 22 relatives in the Ode massacre, said he was disappointed and this was a “bad precedent”.
“They should not be released on bail. Those who have committed a crime must get punishment. Only then there can be deterrence. Twenty three people were burnt alive, 22 of them were my relatives. Our houses were also burnt… those who got life imprisonment are getting bail… This will set a bad precedent. People will get the impression that they can get bail and roam free even after committing such a heinous crime.”
Rafik Khalifa (69), complainant in the case, said he had lost all hope. “These people cannot be enlarged on bail. They had committed such atrocities. They looted people, killed people… Malik (God) will not spare them. I have left everything to Malik now,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant took note that the convicts had completed six-seven years in prison and a decision on their appeals had been pending before the court.
Directing that the men be relocated to Madhya Pradesh where they will also do social and spiritual work and community work, the bench said that the convicts be split into two groups and sent to Jabalpur and Indore. It asked the MP State Legal Services Authority to find them employment options, ensure that they do community service for six hours a week, and also file a status report every three months.
Six of the convicts, who filed their plea through advocate Astha Sharma, said they had been convicted on the basis of evidence of only one eyewitness in each case. They said that statements of the “sole witness” which has been relied upon by the High Court also does not specify their presence at the Jhamplivalu Makan, the place of the incident, but mentions their presence as part of a large mob of over 1,000 people.
Six others said the High Court should not have upheld their conviction “as no specific role or overt acts is attributed to” them “in their initial police statements, and considering that their statements before the various NGOs and the SIT constituted by” the Supreme Court “ were not only saddled with glaring infirmities, but had material improvements”. They contended that they had earlier been allowed parole etc but had not indulged in any violation of the terms of release.
The incident took place in Pirawali Bhagol locality of Ode on March 1, 2002. Following the Godhra train burning incident, Ode residents began targeting Muslim properties in the town. To control the mob, police first lobbed teargas shells and then opened fire. One boy from the mob was killed in the police firing.
Around 4 pm on March 1, a mob of around 1500-2000 launched an attack on Muslim homes in Pirawali Bhagol. The families took shelter in a three-storey residential building. But the mob shut the doors from outside and set it ablaze by hurling pouches filled with petrol and kerosene. Twenty three people were burnt to death inside the house, and the mayhem lasted around two hours.
In 2012, a special trial court convicted 23 people in the case while acquitting 23 others. Eighteen of the convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court. Of the 18, one person died before their appeal was decided by the Gujarat High Court. Subsequently, the High Court acquitted three of the 17 convicts and upheld life terms for 14 who later went in appeal to the Supreme Court.
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