The families of 69 Muslims massacred in northwest India’s Gujarat state during one of the worst religious riots more than 14 years ago plan to challenge the sentences handed down Friday against 24 Hindus.
Eleven men were sentenced to life in prison, one was handed a 10-year jail term while 12 were jailed for seven years for the killings in Gulbarg Society, a Muslim residential pocket in state capital Ahmedabad, on Feb. 28, 2002.
The prosecutor and attorneys representing victims’ families had asked the court for death sentences or life imprisonment for the 24 men who were convicted on June 2, the same day 36 others were found not guilty.
Standing by the sentencings, the court said: “They are not a menace to society, the accused can be reformed.”
The victims’ families plan to appeal to the High Court to get stronger sentences.
“I am absolutely not satisfied,” Imtiyaz Pathan, who witnessed the killings of 10 family members in the attack, told BenarNews after the sentences were announced.
“Life sentences for the 11 were expected, but the punishment to the other 13 convicted of rioting is too little,” he said.
The massacre in Gulbarg Society, a complex of about 30 bungalows and 10 apartment blocks, was one of the single worst losses of life in the week-long riots which left more than 1,000 people dead.
The families of those killed claim members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that ruled the state were conspirators in the attack that came a day after a mob set fire to a train loaded with Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 people.
Current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat’s chief minister, was accused of complicity during the riots, but was acquitted in 2013 due to lack of evidence.
Zakia Jafri, the wife of slain Congress party leader Ehsan Jafri, who was hacked and burned to death while he tried to reason with the mob, also expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, saying, “Life sentence should have been awarded to all the accused, not some of them.”
Jafri, who saw her husband being killed, is fighting the last legal battle against Modi and 59 senior policemen over negligence of duty in relation to the riots.
Jafri’s son, Tanvir, said although the sentencing did bring about some sense of closure, it remained to be seen why many of the accused were acquitted and some of those convicted given lighter sentences.
“We are going to appeal the judgment. There have been several oversights,” he told BenarNews, adding that he was shocked that the court did not see evidence that the attack on Gulbarg Society was part of a conspiracy.
“How is it possible that all the people in a mob of around 100 people were acting alone? The very fact that there was no one to stop them from killing Muslims proves that a bigger conspiracy was afoot,” he said.
“The office of the police commissioner is a stones-throw away from Gulbarg Society. Just minutes before the attack, the commissioner had visited Gulbarg Society and assured my father that help was on its way.
“But despite several phone calls, not a single policeman came to help us while we were being attacked,” he said.