AHMEDABAD: A special trial court has sentenced former Bharatiya Janata Party minister Maya Kodnani to life imprisonment for her involvement in the Naroda Patiya case.
In February 2002, 97 people were massacred, making it the largest single case of mass murder during the Gujarat riots that broke out following the Godhra train carnage.
Former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, who was also convicted in the case, has been awarded life imprisonment till death, while the other 30 convicts were also awarded life terms.
When the sentences were announced, a wail erupted from a crowd of women relatives of the convicted gathered outside the courthouse in Ahmedabad.
Most relatives of the victims stayed away, a sign that 10 years on, memories of the bloodletting by Hindu mobs still cast a pall of fear over the state's Muslim community.
Kodnani, Gujarat's minister for women and child development from 2007 to 2009, was the highest-profile figure to be convicted in connection with the riots.
Modi appointed her as a minister in his government despite the fact she had already been implicated in the killings, although she was not arrested until 2009.
Witnesses told investigators that 57-year-old Kodnani, a gynaecologist, played a leading role in the massacre of 95 people - 30 men, 32 women and 33 children - in Naroda Patiya.
Kodnani handed out swords to Hindu rioters, exhorted them to attack Muslims and at one point fired a pistol, according to witness statements seen by Reuters.
Kodnani arrived at the court in a police bus. Wearing a white saree she was led into the building by women police officers. Also on the bus was Babubai Bajrangi, a Hindu nationalist firebrand who was accused of disembowelling a pregnant woman with a sword. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
A special trial court Wednesday had convicted 32 people while 29 accused were acquitted in the case. The trial court had convicted Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajarangi and BJP minister Maya Kodnani.
Trial in the case had began in 2009 after the Supreme Court appointed SIT carried out further probe in the case.
Many witnesses in the case were jittery, having told the court how the rioters targeted women and children and set houses on fire. "By deposing, we have taken a big risk because the accused are powerful. But we have faith in the judiciary," said Salim Sheikh whose son was killed in the riots.
According to state government records, of more than 1,200 people killed in the 2002 riots, nearly 950 were Muslims.
So far, trial courts have delivered verdicts in the Sardarpura massacre case, Ode village massacre case and Dipda Darwaja massacre case, besides the Godhra train carnage case.
Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Maya Kodnani, who was among a group charged with "beating, cutting down, burning alive and causing the deaths of women, men and children", according to the charge sheet, in an episode of the Gujarat bloodletting known as the Naroda Patiya massacre.
Human rights groups say about 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were hacked, beaten or burned to death in Gujarat after a suspected Muslim mob burned alive 59 Hindu activists and pilgrims inside a train in February 2002.
One witness alleged Kodnani, who became a minister in the state government five years after the riots, identified Muslim targets to be attacked and at one point fired a pistol.
The BJP said the court ruling was proof that the state's criminal justice system was free from bias.
Case of largest single mass murder during 2002 riots
Rioters massacred 97 people in Naroda Patiya locality on February 28, 2002, a day after the Godhra train carnage in which 57 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya were charred to death
Houses were set on fire in the lower middle-class Muslim locality, rendering more than 800 families homeless
Former BJP minister Maya Kodnani - Naroda MLA uninterrupted since 1998 - and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi are among the 62 accused in the case
Former VHP general secretary Dr Jaidip Patel was not made accused in the case despite demands by witnesses (Agencies)
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