A special Indian court on Tuesday sentenced to death 11 people for setting fire to a train in Godhra in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, killing 59 people in an act that led to some of the worst religious riots in the country since independence in 1947. The Sabarmati Express was carrying Hindu devotees returning from the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
More than 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the subsequent riots in Gujarat. Critics say the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules Gujarat, did little to stop the violence and many believe the riots led to the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 general elections.
The court last week found the 31 defendants on trial guilty of conspiracy to torch the train, a judgment that seemed to back the BJP’s stand that the train was deliberately set on fire to provoke the riots. Opponents say the fire was accidental and was used as an excuse for the violence. The death sentences must be confirmed by a higher court.
The 20 not sentenced to death received life sentences, prosecutor J.M. Panchal told reporters outside the courtroom.