A special court in Ahmedabad on Thursday, April 20, acquitted all 67 accused, including former BJP legislator Maya Kodnani, ex-Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel, in the 2002 Naroda Gam massacre case. The case pertains to the killing of 11 members of a minority community during communal riots in Gujarat. The verdict was delivered by special judge Shubhada Baxi.
This case is among the nine major riots in Gujarat that ensued after the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002. Despite the Supreme Court's monitoring of designated courts for speedy trials of the 2002 Gujarat riot cases, it took several years to reach a verdict in the Naroda Gam case.
The trial was conducted by five judges over the years, with several past orders recording the prosecution's delays and the dilatory tactics employed by the defence. The trial concluded on April 5, after hearing nearly 182 prosecution witnesses. Of the 85 accused, 18 were charged but died during the course of the trial, leaving 67 accused to stand the trial, all of whom are currently out on bail.
The accused faced multiple charges under the Indian Penal Code, including murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, rioting, dacoity, promoting communal disharmony, mischief by fire, causing disappearance of evidence, abetment, deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings, voluntarily causing hurt, and other charges under the Arms Act.
Kodnani and Bajrangi were convicted in the Naroda Patiya case in 2012, the worst massacre of the Gujarat riots, and were sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the Gujarat High Court acquitted Kodnani in 2018 while upholding Bajrangi's conviction.
The Naroda Gam massacre took place on February 28, 2002, when mobs set Muslim homes on fire in the Muslim Maholla, Kumbhar Vas, in Ahmedabad's Naroda Gam area, resulting in the death of 11 Muslims. An FIR was filed at the Naroda police station.
The Justice Nanavati Commission report, which investigated the Gujarat riots, highlighted the testimony of witnesses regarding the lack of police assistance provided to the Muslim community, leaving them at the mercy of the rioters.
However, several police officials testified that they were unable to reach Naroda Gam as they were occupied with the more severe situation at Naroda Patiya.
The verdict has been met with mixed reactions, with the relatives of the accused outside the court rejoicing with chants of "Jai Shree Ram" and "Bharat Mata ki Jai."