31 guilty over Indian Muslim's fire deaths


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The Independent Online

A court convicted and sentenced 31 Hindus to life imprisonment for killing dozens of Muslims by setting a building on fire during one of India's worst rounds of communal violence nine years ago. 

Judge S.T. Srivastava also acquitted 41 Hindus of murder charges for lack of evidence. 

Those convicted can appeal the verdict in a higher court. 

Relations between Hindus and Muslims have been largely peaceful since the bloody partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan on independence from Britain in 1947. But mistrust runs deep and there are sporadic bouts of violence. 

The worst recent violence erupted in 2002 in Gujarat state. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs after a train fire killed 60 Hindus returning from a pilgrimage. Muslims were blamed for the fire. 

During rioting, the suspects set a building on fire in a village in Mehsana district, nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Ahmadabad, the main city of Gujarat state. Thirty-three Muslims, including 20 women, who had taken shelter there were burned alive. 

Two of the suspects died during the trial that was expedited by orders from India's top court, the Supreme Court. 

Muslims account for about 14 percent of India's population of 1.1 billion but lag far behind the Hindu majority in most social indicators, from literacy to household incomes.