BJP MLA and former minister in the Narendra Modi government Maya Kodnani and 30 others were today sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court which described the Naroda Patiya massacre of 97 Muslims during the 2002 post-Godhra riots as “a black chapter in the history of Indian Constitution”.
Additional Principal Judge Jyotsna Yagnik dubbed communal riots as “a cancer on constitutional secularism” and Kodnani the “kingpin” of the Naroda Patiya carnage and sentenced her to 18 years life imprisonment.
She will,however,have to serve 10 years in jail under section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of IPC before her life sentence gets underway,thereby effectively getting a 28-year imprisonment.
Another high-profile accused,Babu Bajrangi,the notorious leader of Bajrang Dal’s moral police who was often caught on the wrong side of the law,will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Seven other accused have been given enhanced life imprisonment and they will have to first serve a 10-year term under section 326 before their life sentences begin.
22 others have been handed down simple life imprisonment of 14 years.
Coming in an election year,the verdict that has established for the first time involvement of a senior BJP leader in the post-Godhra conflagration,may have an adverse fallout on Modi’s efforts to remove the taint of the communal riots.
“Communal riots are like cancer on constitutional secularism and incident that happened in Naroda Patiya was a black chapter in the history of the Indian constitution,” the judge observed.
“Acts of communal violence was brutal,inhuman and shameful,it was a clear incident of human rights violation as 97 people were killed brutally within the day which included helpless women,children aged persons and the climax of this inhuman and brutal act of violence was reflected in murder of an infant who was 20 days old,” the court said highlighting the enormity of the crime.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad,who has taken up the case of the post-Godhra riots victims in Gujarat,said they are “completely satisfied” with the manner in which the court has given “exemplary punishment”.
“It is the first time that a politician’s involvement in communal violence has been recognised,” she said.
Judge Yagnik also ordered the Gujarat government to pay a compensation of Rs five lakh to a victim of gangrape but did not charge anybody for the offence for want of evidence.
The court had on Wednesday convicted 32 and acquitted 29 accused in the case. It did not pronounce sentence against one absconding accused.
Though maintaining that death penalty was “desirable” to reduce crime in the society,the court said it believes that such a punishment “undermines human dignity”.
“Death penalty brings justice and it is desirable to reduce the crime in the society but this court cannot overlook the global trend prevalent in recent years as by 2009,139 countries have repealed death sentence and there is a global campaign against death penalty and progressive societies are advocating for restricting death penalty and this court believes use of death undermines human dignity”.
It rejected the defence’s argument that communal violence in Naroda Patiya was a reaction to Godhra train burning incident.
“This was a pre-planned conspiracy and it cannot be mitigated just by saying that it was a reaction of Godhra train burning incident,” it said.
Describing Kodnani as the “kingpin” of the riots,the court said she led the mob and incited it for violence.
Kodnani,who was an MLA at the time of the riots,was made minister of state for women and child development in 2007 but had to resign after she was arrested in March 2009.
Kodnani,a three-time MLA from Naroda who was considered to be close to Chief Minister Modi,is the first woman to be convicted in a post-Godhra riots case.
She broke down after the sentenced was pronounced.
The Naroda Patiya massacre had taken place just a day after the Godhra train-burning incident on February 27,2002.
Responding to a bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad,armed mobs had gone on the rampage,slaughtering and burning 97 people,including women and children,and wounding 33 others as communal frenzy gripped Gujarat.