An Indian court sentenced seven Muslim men to life in prison on Friday for killing two members of the Hindu community over a motorcycle accident that sparked large-scale riots, which claimed dozens of lives in north India’s Uttar Pradesh state almost six years ago.
The Muzaffarnagar district sessions court handed down the sentence after finding the seven men guilty of killing Gaurav Singh and Sachin Singh on Aug. 27, 2013, following a minor altercation.
Authorities believe the incident led to the monthlong riots in Muzaffarnagar, 130 km (81 miles) north of the capital New Delhi, and adjoining districts, leaving 62 people dead – a majority of them Muslims – and more than 40,000 homeless.
“We were fighting to get the death penalty [for the accused]," Ravindra Singh, Gaurav’s father, told BenarNews after the sentences were announced. "But we are happy that, now, six years after Gaurav and Sachin were brutally killed by these boys, we finally have some closure.”
Gaurav and Sachin belonged to the Hindu Jat community.
According to police records, Gaurav and Sachin stabbed to death a resident of Kawal village in Muzaffarnagar, over a motorcycle accident. A Muslim mob, including the seven accused, then beat the two boys to death with sticks, bricks and iron rods.
More than a week after the incident, a group of Hindus returning from a village council meeting was attacked, kick-starting a full-fledged riot that subsequently spread to adjoining areas.
About 1,480 people were arrested for their alleged role in the violence, of whom some 430 were acquitted, according to prosecutors. In a bid to quell the rioting, India deployed its army in the state for the first time in 20 years.
Naseem Ahmed, father of two of those sentenced on Friday, claimed his sons and the five others who have been convicted were innocent and being framed as they were “easy targets.”
“The police and district authorities have dragged them (the accused) in a fabricated case,” he told BenarNews. “We are easy targets because we belong to the Muslim community.”
He said he would appeal the verdict to the High Court.
Numbering about 180 million, Muslims make up the largest religious minority in Hindu-majority India, which has a population of nearly 1.3 billion.
In 2016, a government-sponsored inquiry commission blamed laxity on the part of the police and top officials for the Muzaffarnagar violence.
Another independent fact-finding team, composed of three academics and a senior journalist, found that Muslims were the most affected by the “communal orgy that swept Muzaffarnagar.”
There were accounts of Hindu Jats “raising provocative slogans as they passed by Muslim habitations shouting slogans such as “Muslims have two homes: Pakistan or the graveyard,” the team said in its report seen by BenarNews.
“Jats who died were killed in reaction to this deliberate provocation,” the report said.