20, Apr 2018 | CJP Team
In a huge setback for those seeking justice in Gujarat carnage cases of 2002, the Gujarat High Court today acquitted Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya case. On August 29, 2012, Kodnani had been convicted by a special court for inciting mobs at Naroda Patiya to exact revenge for the Godhra train burning incident, and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
The total number of people convicted in the case now stands at 15 including Babu Bajrangi whose conviction was upheld. Earlier 12 people had been convicted On Friday, the Gujarat HC reversed the acquittals of three others. The court upheld the conviction of Babu Bajrangi. Suresh a.k.a Richard Charra has also been found guilty. Charra had been accused of rape and had earlier offered the ridiculous defence that he could not have raped a Muslim woman as he was married to one! Meanwhile, Kodnani’s personal assistant KS Chabda was also acquitted.
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What happened in Naroda Patiya
On February 28, 2002, a mob of nearly 5000 people stabbed, burnt alive, looted, raped and sexually assaulted the residents of Naroda Patiya, a mostly Muslim neighbourhood in the suburbs of Ahmedabad. The mob comprised members of Bajrang Dal and the carnage lasted over 10 hours during a ‘bandh’ call given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in wake of the Godhra Train Burning incident. Official death toll in the Naroda Patiya case stands at 97.
A Special Investigation Team had said that a day after the Godhra incident, Maya Kodnani incited mobs and was seen at the spot by 11 witnesses. Witnesses had told the court that she handed out swords to rioters, exhorted them to attack Muslims and at one point fired a pistol. Even phone records placed Kodnani in Naroda at the time of the incident.
How the case progressed
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed to investigate various Gujarat riots cases. Special judge Jyotsna Yagnik had convicted 31 others along with Maya Kodnani on August 29, 2012. 29 people were acquitted for lack of evidence. Babu Bajrangi was first awarded life sentence, but this was later commuted to 21 years in prison. Maya Kodnani was granted bail due to ill health in 2014. The convicts appealed the case in the Gujarat High Court where hearing concluded in August 2017.
You can read more about the August 2012 Naroda Patiya judgment here.
The Gujarat HC judgment
The Gujarat High Court acquitted Kodnani stating they found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy in the riots. The HC noted that none of the 11 witnesses had named Kodnani when the case was being registered. “Eleven witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani’s presence at the location, there were contradictions,” said special public prosecutor Prashant Desai.
Advocate Suhel Tirmizi says, “This acquittal is worth challenging and we have sufficient material against Maya Kodnani. We hope and wish victims’ families and survivors would approach the Supreme Court with CJP and appeal against this judgment.” Tirmizi also said that the SC rejected not only a demand for compensation for the victims but also the demand for further investigation in the case.
Reacting to the judgment CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad said, “The struggle goes on. We are yet to see the reasoning behind the Verdict that has acquitted some of the powerful, and convicted others. So there is disappointment as well as cause for some celebration. Needless to say, our struggle for exemplary justice will continue. It could have been worse. The fact that despite all CJP has not abandoned the deck (of the not entirely sinking ship of justice) makes a huge huge difference. We are literally the only organisation battling it out sixteen years down.”