India: court convicts 24 in 2002 Gujarat pogrom
The Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad, India, convicted 24 individuals on June 2 of murder and other charges related to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in which hundreds of Muslims were killed. The riots, which occurred when current Prime Minister Narendra Modi served as the Chief Minister of the state, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 individuals, most of whom were Muslims, making this India's worst outbreak of religious violence since the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. The Gujarat riots came a day after 60 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train blaze. A court convicted 31 people years later of arson in connection with that incident. According to SM Vohra, a lawyer representing some three dozen victims, 11 of the 24 were convicted of murder while the rest were convicted of lesser charges, which will not be made public until sentencing. The court acquitted 36 other defendants who had been on trial since 2009, while four of the accused died during the trial.
Accusations against Modi that he did not do enough to stop the rioting continue to haunt him to this day, although the prime minister denies any wrongdoing. As recently as September 2014, Modi was sued in the US courts on behalf of unnamed survivors of violence in India, who claimed that he failed to stop the 2002 riots. In January 2015, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit, agreeing with the US State Department that Modi is entitled to immunity from lawsuits in US courts.
Modi was elected prime minister in May 2014 with a landslide victory. The election of the Hindu nationalist and 282 members of his conservative Bharatiya Janata Party was called historic, as no party has won by such a margin since 1984. Since his election 13 of his 45 ministers have been charged with criminal offenses. The Supreme Court held last July that convicted MPs would be immediately disqualified from serving, without being given time for appeal. But panel appointed by India's Supreme Court in 2013 found that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Modi for any involvement in the riots.
From Jurist, June 3. Used with permission.
Note: This week's convictions concern the Feb. 28, 2002 Gulbarg Society massacre, named for the Muslim neighborhood of Ahmedabad in which they take place. Gulbarg Society was abandoned after the attacks, and remains a ghost town today. (Indian Express, June 3; India Today, June 2) Modi will be meeting wth Obama in Washington as part of a nine-nation tour this month. (IANS, June 3) Modi had been denied a visa to enter the US under the Bush administration because of his possible links to the massacres, but the restriction was lifted by the Obama administration after his election as prime minister. (IANS, Dec. 13, 2015)
Previous convictions in the 2002 violence have included Gujarat state government officials. The BJP continues to be linked to anti-Muslim violence, but has its strong sympathizers in the Democratic Party. Jihadists in the Subcontinent continue to exploit the Gujarat massacres as a recruiting tool today.