AHMADABAD, India – An Indian court convicted a former state government minister and 31 other people Wednesday in connection with deadly anti-Muslim riots that shook the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
The violence, which killed more than 1,100 people, almost all Muslims, began after a train fire on Feb. 27, 2002, that killed 60 Hindu pilgrims. Hindu mobs, convinced Muslims set the fire, rampaged through towns and villages burning Muslim homes and businesses.
Rights groups and survivors have accused the state government, controlled by the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, of not doing enough to stop the violence and even stoking it.
The convictions Wednesday, on charges ranging from rioting to murder, stemmed from an attack in Naroda Patiya, a small industrial town on the outskirts of Ahmadabad, Gujarat's capital, that killed 95 people.
Those convicted included Maya Kodnani, a state legislator at the time who later became minister of education and child welfare in the Gujarat government. She was arrested in 2009 on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy and has been in prison since.
The court, which acquitted 29 others, did not immediately announce the sentences or who was convicted of which crime.
The convictions were not the first linked to the rioting.
In July, a special court found 21 people guilty in the murders of 11 members of a Muslim family in the town of Visnagar and sentenced them to life in prison.
Last November, 31 Hindus were sentenced by the same court to life imprisonment for killing dozens of Muslims by setting a building on fire in the state's Mehsana district.
The courts are expected to issue verdicts in six other cases within a year.
Following India's independence and its bloody partition from Pakistan in 1947, relations between majority Hindus and Muslims have been largely peaceful, but there have been sporadic bouts of violence.