An Indian court has found 31 Hindus guilty of killing 33 Muslims during the violent religious and communal riots that rocked the state of Gujarat in 2002.

An unidentified relative of one of the convicted Hindus breaks down upon hearing the verdict at the district court. (Ajit Solanki/AP)

Wednesday’s verdict is the culmination of the first of nine trials to be held in India in connection with the 2002 violence, which began with a train fire in which 60 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive and ended with a wave of anti-Muslim unrest that left 2,000 more dead. It was some of India’s worst religious violence since independence in 1947.

“The crocodiles that had gone free for so long and have not been investigated are being punished,” Gujarat state Congress president Arjun Modhwadia Congress said of Wednesday’s verdict.

Activist Teesta Setalvad, who publishes a magazine Communalism Combat with a mandate to foster communal harmony, hailed the decision.

“It has never happened in the history of independence that 31 people have been convicted in a communal violence case,” Setalvad said. “It is very important for India because it shows people who indulge in mob violence are held accountable.”

Setalvad also said she believes that had the decision been left to local police and government, instead of the Supreme Court, the court would have never gotten to this decision.

Responsibility for the train fire and ensuing riots have been a subject of fierce debate between Hindus and Muslims since 2002. In March of this year, a court sentenced 11 Muslims to death, and 20 more to life terms for the fire. Gujarat state chief minister Narendra Modi, who is a Hindu nationalist, has been accused by rights groups of allowing and even encouraging the riots, as well as being slow to prosecute Hindus over their role.

An image from the riots:

Youths burn vehicles and debris in the streets of Ahmadabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2002, a day after a Muslim mob attacked a train. (Manish Swarup/AP)

Watch raw footage of the riots and interviews with some of the victims, from a 2003 documentary, “Final Solution”: