A special court in Gujarat's Anand district has sentenced 18 of the 23 convicted in the 2002 Ode village massacre case in which 23 people died, to life imprisonment; the remaining five have been sentenced to seven years in prison.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,800 each on the accused sentenced to life imprisonment and Rs 3,800 each on the other five convicts.
The pronouncement of the verdict caused uproar among the family members and relatives of the convicts who were standing inside the court campus and many of them broke down.
"There is no evidence against the accused. This is injustice, this is not the temple of justice but temple of injustice," the relatives alleged.
More than 100 people, including women and children, who were gathered at the campus, resorted to sloganeering. However, police removed them out of the campus.
On Monday, almost a decade after a mob killed 23 Muslims, including nine children, in the Ode village of Gujarat's Anand district, 23 people were convicted out of the 47 people accused in the case. 23 were acquitted; one accused had died during trial.
On March 1, 2002, as communal riots spread across Gujarat after the Godhra train-burning incident, a mob attacked about 20 Muslim homes in Ode. Members of several families in the neighbourhood took refuge in one three-storeyed house. The mob set fire to it. A survivor, Majid Miyan, recalls that after the three-hour-long horror, 23 people were dead, but only two bodies could be recovered. Nine children and nine women were among those killed.
The Ode massacre was one among the nine post-Godhra riot cases that was investigated by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court.
There were 150 witnesses in the case, 35 of whom turned hostile. The SIT based its cases against the accused on the testimony of 12 star witnesses.
Majid Miyan, who lost 13 family members, says, "I had rushed back from the fields, everything was on fire. People with weapons had torched the house and bolted it from outside. I tried calling out to my family members but everything was finished," he said. His cousin Shafiq Mohammad lost his wife and two children.
In the past 10 years, Majid and Shafiq have rarely visited these ruins but the pain is undiminished. "We want justice... justice and nothing else," said Shafiq said before the verdict.
Rafiq Bhai - the main complainant in the Ode massacre case - has never returned. He stays in a migrant township near Anand. Though Rafiq and his family escaped the mob, he lost his house and business. "We have lost everything in that attack. Besides, have lost faith in the neighbours, don't feel like going back," he said.
The 46 surviving victims were all out on bail.
This is the second of the nine cases investigated by the SIT that has seen conviction. Last November, a fast-track court in Gujarat had sentenced 31 people to life imprisonment in the Sardarpura massacre, where 33 people were burnt to death by a mob of 1,500 in 2002 during the communal violence that was unleashed across Gujarat. The Sardarpura massacre also happened on March 1, 2002.
Seventy-three people were tried in that case for murder, attempt to murder, rioting, arson and criminal conspiracy. Of these, 31 were found guilty, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment; 42 were acquitted.