32 people convicted for deadly India riots
The New York Times | August 30,2012
NEW DELHI — A former state education minister and 31 others were convicted Wednesday for their roles in the deaths of 94 people during one of the most savage attacks of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The charges against the defendants include murder, rioting and conspiracy, and can carry the death penalty. Sentencing may occur as soon as Thursday.
The convictions could also have political consequences. Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister and a possible candidate for prime minister for the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014, has long denied any role in the riots, despite testimony from witnesses who say he discouraged police from intervening.
He was not charged in the case, but one of the convicted defendants — Mayaben Kodnani, a state legislator and former state education minister, is among Modi’s confidants. Cellphone records demonstrated that Kodnani was at the scene of the riot, contradicting her own testimony.
“This is the first Gujarat riot case which has links to the political conspiracy,” said Teesta Setalvad, a victim’s advocate who has played crucial roles in many of the Gujarat cases. “I salute the decade-long fight by victims and witnesses.”
Jaynarayan Vyas, a Cabinet minister for the Gujarat government, sought to distance the administration from Kodnani’s actions, saying that she did not become the state education minister until after the riots.
“Until we read the full judgment, we will not give our opinion,” he said.
Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, said: “This is the judicial process. Whosoever is the culprit will be punished by the court. It is the first stage of judgment. This is a legal process.”
A total of 327 witnesses testified in the case, and prosecutors presented 2,005 documents. Sixty-seven people were charged, of whom 32 were convicted and 29 acquitted; six defendants died during the proceedings.
“More than 90 defenseless persons, mostly women and children of a minority community, were killed,” said Akhil Desai, the prosecutor on the case. Referring to the convicted defendants, he said, “I pleaded with the court to give them the maximum punishment of a death sentence.”
The violence at the center of the case took place on the morning of Feb. 28, 2002, when rioters broke through the stone walls encircling the Muslim neighborhood of Naroda Patiya and attacked families eating breakfast.