On the intervening night of 28 February and 1 March in 2002, between 11.30 pm and 2.30 am, a mob torched the house of a Muslim man called Ibrahim Sheikh in Sardarpura. As a result, 33 people, including 22 women, were charred to death.
The crime, which eventually came to be known as the infamous Sardarpura massacre case, had taken place to 'avenge' the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 people were burnt to death on 27 February, 2002.
On Thursday, the Gujarat High Court acquitted 14 persons out of 31 convicted by a lower court and confirmed the life sentence of 17 others in the massacre case.
A division bench of Justices Harsha Devani and Biren Vaishnav concluded that the 14 people had to be acquitted due to lack of evidence and contradiction in witnesses' account.
This is a very important decision because after the massacre, 76 people had been accused and arrested by the police. After the high court's decision, 14 of those 76 stand convicted.
The Sardapura massacre case was the first of the nine post-Godhra riot cases probed by Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former CBI Director RK Raghavan, according to The Indian Express.
Out of the 76 initially arrested, two died during pendency of trial, while one was a juvenile.
A special SIT court had framed charges against 73 accused in June 2009 and initiated trial in the case.
On 9 November, 2011, the court convicted 31 people and acquitted 42 others. The convicted were awarded life sentence along with a fine of Rs 50,000 each in the verdict passed by special SIT court judge SC Srivastava.
It was then that the SIT challenged the acquittal of the 31 people in the Gujarat High Court.
The high court on Thursday also upheld the decision of lower court to not accept the "conspiracy theory" put up by the prosecution, which had alleged that the attack on the Muslims was pre-planned and a conspiracy was hatched following the Godhra train burning incident.
The prosecution had claimed that a conspiracy had been hatched by some local leaders to target Muslims of Sardarpura in Vijapur taluka. As per SIT submissions, villagers had started gathering at the Panchayat office from around 9.30 pm on 28 February, 2002, as part of a conspiracy.
A mob of hundreds of people had surrounded a lane, called 'Sheikh Vaas', in Sardarpura, after which the house was burnt. The mob also stood there to ensure nobody could rescue people shouting for help inside the house.
According to the SIT, if the witnesses did not touch upon the conspiracy aspect, it was because they were mentally traumatised when examined in the trial court.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 15:30 PM