AHMEDABAD: An Indian court on Tuesday handed down 11 death sentences and 20 life terms to those found guilty of setting a train on fire in 2002, triggering anti-Muslim rioting that left 2,000 dead.
Last week, 31 Muslims were found guilty on conspiracy and murder charges for causing the train fire in the western state of Gujarat.
Fifty-nine Hindu pilgrims perished in the blaze at Godhra station, sparking an anti-Muslim backlash that resulted in some of India's worst religious violence since independence from Britain in 1947.
Hindu mobs seeking revenge rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in several cities during three days of bloodshed.
A total of 94 people, all Muslims, had stood trial at a court in Gujarat's biggest city Ahmedabad where they had been detained since 2002. The judge acquitted 63 of them.
Responsibility for the fire has been the subject of fierce dispute between India's Hindu and Muslim communities, and the trial verdicts supported Hindu claims that it was a planned attack.
Previously, a national inquiry concluded that the fire was an accident, though other official investigations contradicted that finding.
The judge felt the crimes fell "under the category of the rarest of the rare", special public prosecutor J.M. Panchal told reporters outside the court.
"There was an active role, as far as these people are concerned, in the conspiracy and also setting fire to the coach," he said.
Extra police had been put on duty across Gujarat to prevent any outbreak of communal violence after the verdicts, but no unrest was reported.
Local authorities had also banned television stations and newspapers from broadcasting or printing the many graphic images taken during the riots to avoid stirring up religious tensions.
During the 2002 slaughter in Ahmedabad and elsewhere, witnesses said baying Hindu mobs surrounded and raped Muslim women, then poured kerosene down their throats and their children's throats and threw lit matches at them.
Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi -- a prominent member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- was accused of failing to stop the riots, and even of encouraging them, with police allegedly ordered not to intervene as the killing spread.
Modi has always denied the allegations. A Supreme Court panel last month criticised him for "partisan" handling of the unrest, but found no evidence to justify criminal prosecution of him.
Muslims have always denied setting the train ablaze on February 27, 2002, though an angry crowd had gathered at Godhra station to protest against Hindu passengers allegedly taunting Muslim porters and hawkers.
Maulvi Umarji, accused of being the mastermind behind the fire, was among those acquitted last week.
The Hindus on the train were returning from the town of Ayodhya, another flashpoint for inter-religion unrest after a mosque was razed in 1992 by Hindu zealots, leading to riots that killed thousands of people, mostly Muslims.
Modi, who is seen by many in the BJP as a future candidate for prime minister, has struggled to shrug off accusations about his handling of the Gujarat riots.
After the train blaze, he quoted Isaac Newton's law that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" -- words seen as a deliberate signal of support for the vengeful killers.
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