Release of Hindu militants convicted of massacring Muslims during 2002 Gujarat pogrom a blot on India’s judiciary, say Indian Americans
Washington, D.C. (April 20, 2023) – The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) is deeply disturbed by the decision of a court in Gujarat state to acquit 67 Hindu extremists and militant leaders who were accused and convicted in the burning of 11 Muslims alive in the 2002 Naroda Gam massacre. The massacre was one of the major cases of deadly Hindu mob violence during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, during which Hindu extremists slaughtered nearly two thousand Muslim men, women and children.
In this particular case, Hindu mobs set fire to Muslim-owned homes in the Naroda Gam area of Ahmedabad city, resulting in the death of 11 Muslims. In 2008, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed to investigate the massacre. A case was filed against 86 Hindu extremists after interviewing 187 people and taking statements from nearly five dozen eyewitnesses.
Despite the slew of evidence against the extremists — both from the SIT and the victims’ lawyer, who submitted foreign science laboratory reports and cell tower locations as additional evidence — the special court acquitted all 67 of the surviving Hindu militants convicted in the massacre.
“It’s a travesty of justice. The fact that India has allowed so many murderers, lynchers, arsonists, and rapists to walk free en masse and be received as heroes is despicable and a blot on the Indian judiciary,” said Rasheed Ahmed, IAMC Executive Director.
This shocking decision has allowed the release of notorious Hindu militant leader Babu Bajrangi, who was also convicted in the single deadliest mass killing of Muslims during the pogrom – including 97 Muslim women, children, and men – as part of the Naroda Patiya massacre in another area of Ahmedabad. During this massacre, women and girls were publicly gang-raped before being hacked and burned. A video of Bajrangi boasting about his role in the violence was included as part of the BBC’s recently released documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat pogrom.
“There was this pregnant woman. I slit her open,” Bajrangi said in the clip. “We didn’t spare anyone. I say it even today, they (Muslims) should not be allowed to prosper.”
When asked if he had also killed women and children, Bajrangi responded, “Yes, everyone. Kill, chop and burn them… I enjoy it (killing Muslims). We killed them, came home, and slept.”
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Maya Kodnani, who was convicted for leading the mobs in the arson of the Muslim-owned homes in Naroda Gam, was also acquitted. Kodani was previously sentenced to 28 years in prison after a court labeled her as the “kingpin” behind the Naroda Patiya massacre. Despite eyewitness reports that Kodnani “actively instigated” the mobs, she was also acquitted in the case in 2018.
This acquittal comes just months after 11 Hindu extremists were allowed to walk free from prison after being convicted of gang-raping a pregnant Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, and murdering most of her family members during the Gujarat pogrom. Bano’s appeal against the release is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
Both cases illustrate how the judiciary has become a tool for rising Hindu extremism throughout India. Under the Modi government, Hindu supremacists arrested for anti-Muslim violence routinely walk free.
“The judiciary in India is gradually becoming a rubber stamp of the BJP government. Those who do their work of killing and demonizing minorities walk free, while those who they disagree with them are sent to jail. This particular decision sends a problematic message to the Hindu supremacist core that violence against Muslims is unpunishable,” Ahmed added.
IAMC calls upon the Gujarat High Court to reverse the acquittal order of the lower court and ensure justice for the victims’ families. IAMC further calls upon the international community, including the Biden administration and the US Department of State to take up the matter of Muslim persecution with top levels of the Indian government.