On Thursday, an Indian court acquitted 69 Hindus, including a former minister from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of the murder of 11 Muslims during communal riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
The killings happened in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, following a suspected Muslim mob’s attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, triggering one of independent India’s worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed. Of the 86 Hindus accused of the killings in the Naroda Gam district of Ahmedabad, 17 died during trial, and all the accused were free on bail. Those acquitted include former minister Maya Kodnani, a BJP lawmaker during the riots, Babu Bajrangi, former leader of the Bajrang Dal, and Jaydeep Patel, leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Bajrang Dal and VHP are Hindu nationalist groups and have close ties to the BJP. Activists estimate that at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed across Gujarat during the 2002 riots. However, critics accused then-chief minister Narendra Modi of failing to protect Muslims, a charge he denied, and an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court found no evidence to prosecute him. The victims’ lawyer said they would challenge the court’s decision in a higher court.