Amid row over BBC documentary, Gujarat court acquits 22 accused in 2002 riots

Riots break out in Gujarat following the burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt in Godhra. File photo: Manorama Archives

Godhra: Amid controversies over a BBC documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots when Prime Minister Narendra Modi helmed the western state, a court at Halol town in Gujarat's Panchmahal district has acquitted 22 people, accused of killing 17 members of a minority community for want of evidence. The case pertains to the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots in the state.

According to the prosecution, the victims, including two children, were killed on February 28, 2002 and their bodies burnt with an intention to destroy evidence.

The court of Additional Sessions Judge Harsh Trivedi on Tuesday acquitted all the 22 accused, eight of whom died during the pendency of the case, defence lawyer Gopalsinh Solanki said.

"The court acquitted all the accused in the case of rioting and murder of 17 members of a minority community, including two children, in Delol village of the district for want of evidence, Solanki said.

Communal riots had broken out in different parts of the state a day after a bogie of the Sabarmati Express was torched by a mob near Godhra town in Panchmahal district on February 27, 2002, killing 59 passengers, most of them 'karsevaks' returning from Ayodhya.

An FIR (first information report) was lodged under Indian Penal Code sections pertaining to murder and rioting after the violence in Delol village.

The S6 coach of Sabarmati Express Train burns near the Godhra Railway Station in Gujarat on February 27, 2002.

Another police inspector lodged a case afresh nearly two years after the incident and arrested 22 people for their alleged involvement in the riots.

The prosecution was unable to gather enough evidence against the accused persons, and even witnesses turned hostile, Solanki said.

The defence lawyer said the bodies of the victims were never found.

Police recovered bones from an isolated place on the banks of a river, but they were charred to such an extent that the identity of the victims could not be established, he said.

"Because of lack of evidence, the court acquitted all the 22 accused, eight of whom died during the trial," he said.

Controversy over documentary

The move came amid controversy over a two-part BBC documentary 'India: The Modi Question', which claims it investigated certain aspects relating to the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was the chief minister of the state.

The documentary has been trashed by the Ministry of External Affairs as a "propaganda piece" that lacked objectivity and reflected a "colonial mindset".

The Centre had issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial BBC documentary "India: The Modi Question".

The documentary was was screened across Kerala on Tuesday by various political organisations including the pro-left Students Federation of India (SFI), as the BJP youth wing went up in arms protesting against the screening.

A students group at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) also organised screening of the documentary on its campus without a prior notice or permission, prompting the University authorities to seek a report on the event for taking necessary action.

Several students, who gathered at the JNU students' union office for a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, claimed the varsity administration cut power and internet to stop the event, and staged a protest after stones were thrown on them. They claimed that they were attacked when they were watching the documentary on their mobile-phones as the screening could not be held. Some alleged that the attackers were members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a charge the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated student body denied.
There was no immediate official response from the JNU administration to the allegations and claims of the students. It had on Monday in an advisory said that the union had not taken its permission for the event and it should be cancelled, warning of strict disciplinary action.
(With PTI inputs)

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