"Jai Shree Ram": Ahmedabad court acquits all 69 accused in Naroda Gam massacre case
People chanted "Jai Shree Ram" after the verdict. Ex-BJP legislator Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and VHP leader Jaydeep Patel were accused in the 2002 Naroda Gam massacre case
"The trial was a travesty of justice," said Gujarat watchers after a special court in Ahmedabad on Thursday acquitted all 69 accused, including former BJP legislator Maya Kodnani, ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel, in the 2002 Naroda Gam massacre case.
The case pertains to the killing of 11 members of a minority community during communal riots in Gujarat. The verdict was delivered by special judge Shubhada Baxi.
This case is among the nine major riots in Gujarat that ensued after the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002.
Despite the Supreme Court's monitoring of designated courts for speedy trials of the 2002 Gujarat riot cases, it took several years to reach a verdict in the Naroda Gam case.
The trial was conducted by five judges over the years, with several past orders recording the prosecution's delays and the dilatory tactics employed by the defence.
The trial concluded on April 5, after hearing nearly 182 prosecution witnesses. Of the 86 accused, 17 were abated during the trial, leaving 69 accused to stand trial, all of whom are currently out on bail.
The accused faced multiple charges under the Indian Penal Code, including murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, rioting, dacoity, promoting communal disharmony, mischief by fire, causing disappearance of evidence, abetment, deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings, voluntarily causing hurt, and other charges under the Arms Act.
Kodnani and Bajrangi were convicted in the Naroda Patiya case in 2012, the worst massacre of the Gujarat riots, and were sentenced to life imprisonment.
However, the Gujarat High Court acquitted Kodnani in 2018 while upholding Bajrangi's conviction.
The Naroda Gam massacre took place on February 28, 2002, when mobs set Muslim homes on fire in the Muslim Maholla, Kumbhar Vas, in Ahmedabad's Naroda Gam area, resulting in the death of 11 Muslims.
Senior journlaist and TV presenter Rajdeeo Sardesai said, "NO ONE KILLED 11 people in Naroda Gam in Gujarat 2002, court acquits all accused. Yet another sad and shameful moment in the Indian judicial system’s repeated failure to prosecute the guilty in communal violence cases."
An FIR was filed at the Naroda police station. The Justice Nanavati Commission report, which investigated the Gujarat riots, highlighted the testimony of witnesses regarding the lack of police assistance provided to the Muslim community, leaving them at the mercy of the rioters.
However, several police officials testified that they were unable to reach Naroda Gam as they were occupied with the more severe situation at Naroda Patiya.
The verdict has been met with mixed reactions, with the relatives of the accused outside the court rejoicing with chants of "Jai Shree Ram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai."
Expressing shock and dismay over the release of Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, many shared an old clip of Babu Bajrangi on Twitter, in which he can be seen admitting his crime.
Bajragi even named Modi - the then Chief Minsiter of Gujarat in the video and alleged that Modi "instigated Hindus". "Modi said you did well. Keep doing," Bjrangi can be heard saying in the clip.
"Maya Kodnani to Babu Bajrangi, all honorable products of Hindutva ideology, accused of rioting, murder and rape, have been exonerated. Can we expect them to become national icons of the future? Or, India will reclaim herself?" wrote Sanjay Jha, a senior journalist with the Telegraph on Twitter.
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