Arson is wilful burning or charring of property with mala fide intention. This crime is classified as a felony, with instances involving a greater degree of risk to human life or property-carrying severe punishment. A person who commits arson is called an arsonist. Arsonist usually uses gasoline or kerosene as an accelerant to ignite, propel and directional fires. Pyromania is an impulse control disorder in which individuals repeatedly fail to resist impulses to deliberately start fires, in order to relieve tension or for instant gratification. Most arson acts are not committed by pyromaniacs.
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US and legal system of several other countries had divided Arson crimes into degrees, depending on the value of the property, on its use and the time when the crime was committed, whether day or night.
- First-Degree Arson – Burning down a structure which is normally occupied with people.
- Second-Degree Arson – Burning down an unoccupied structure, usually to claim the insurance on such property.
- Third-Degree Arson- Burning an abandoned building or an abandoned area. For example-forest.
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Some Landmark Cases
- Best Bakery case (1st March 2002)
It involves burning down of the Best Bakery, a small outlet in the Hanuman Tekri area in Vadodara, Gujrat, India. It is also known as Tulsi Bakery Case. In this incident, a mob targeted the Sheikh Family who ran the bakery and had taken refuge inside, resulting in the death of 11 Muslims including family members and 3 Hindu employees of the bakery. This incident symbolizes the carnage in the 2002 Gujrat Riots, and it was alleged that the state government had interference with it. The 21 accused were acquitted by the Vadodara fast track court due to shoddy police custody and lack of evidence. However, taking into account a few eye-witnesses, the court convicted nine out of 21 people for murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. On 9th July 2012, Bombay High Court upheld the life sentence of four accused out of 9. The rest five were acquitted on the ground of lack of evidence. This incident followed the Godhra riots and was the first case to be tried with respect to the Godhra riots.
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Godhra Train Burning (27 February 2002)
In this incident, 59 people died in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near Godhra Railway station in Gujrat. The victims were the Hindu pilgrimage who were returning from Ayodhya after the religious ceremony at Babri Masjid which is now and then was dispute site.
This event is widely perceived as the trigger for the Gujrat Riots that subsequently followed, resulting in widespread loss of life, destruction of property and homelessness.
A study conducted by the Gujrat Forensic Science Laboratory reported that 60 liters of inflammable liquid had been poured in the coaches using wide-mouthed container and fire had been set immediately. The report also concluded that there was heavy stone pelting on the train.
In February 2011, the trial court convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 other upholding the contention that incident was a planned conspiracy. TH convictions were based on various sections of IPC, Railway Act, Police Act. Out of the 31 convicted, 11 were granted the death penalty, and 20 others were granted life imprisonment.
Gujrat High court changed the death sentence of 11 accused to life imprisonment. 63 accused were acquitted once again by the High Court. The court asked the Government and Railways to pay 10 lakh compensation to the victims.
Saharanpur Violence (April-May 2017)
This involves a dispute between Dalit and Rajput communities. This dispute marks its beginning on 20th April 2017 when the Dalits were celebrating the birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar. Again when on 5th May 2017, a group of unauthorized Rajputs entered into Dalit colony and were on their way to garlanding ceremony in honor of Maharana Pratap in spite the denial by the administration to enter this colony. Violence escalated resulting into death of one Rajput, injuries to several and burning off as many as 25 Dalit houses.
Aftermath Dalits protested a lot at Jantar Mantar led by Bhim Army. It was alleged that the Dalit protestors torched police base and various vehicle. Around 180 families converted to Buddhism, claiming that Hinduism did not give them equal status. The Dalit leader Mewani said that “Dalits are being targeted and are being hunted down. It is evident that CM Yogi and PM Modi want to replace the Constitution with Manusmriti”.
2013 Canning Riots (21 February 2013)
The dispute involves between Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims in the state of West Bengal. Riots kickstarted in Canning subdivision after a Muslim Cleric was killed by unidentified assailants. Following this incident, Muslim mobs burned down over 200 Hindu Houses in the villages of Naliakhali, Herobhanga, Gopalpur and Goladogra villages in the Canning police station area. Two dozen Hindu-owned shops were looted in Jayanagar police station in Baruipur subdivision.
Then Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee appealed for peace and promised a special investigation into the murder case. Political observers had linked the violence to the then-forthcoming elections in the region, where Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were trying to woo Muslim voters in the district.
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All these incidents are just a few stories in amongst the many, where people have sacrificed their lives by becoming a subject matter of communal violence. The steep rise in the number of cases related to riots and arson across Assam. Apart from recording over 5,000 cases of small and big riots in the last two years, the state witnessed at least 1,600 cases of arson since 2010.
According to the police, cases of arson are not necessarily meant to relate to riots but incidents of public outcry involving an individual or family. Some of the cases were related to ‘witch’ hunting cases.
 “Report of Forensic Science Laboratory, the State of Gujarat” (https://www.outlookindia.com/November 21, 2002) <https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/report-of-forensic-science-laboratory-state-of-gujarat/218028> accessed May 25, 2019.
 “2002 Godhra Train Burning Case: Gujarat HC Commutes Death for 11 Convicts to Life in Prison” (The Indian ExpressOctober 10, 2017) <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/2002-godhra-train-burning-carnage-case-riots-gujarat-high-court-sit-commutes-death-sentence-of-11-convicts-to-life-imprisonment-4881586/> accessed May 25, 2019.
 Reporter S, “One Killed, Dalit Houses Burnt in Saharanpur Clash” (The Hindu May 5, 2017) <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/one-killed-dalit-houses-burnt-in-saharanpur-clash/article18394011.ece> accessed May 25, 2019.
 Agarwal K, “Modi, Yogi Want to Replace Constitution with Manusmriti: Dalit Leader | Meerut News-Times of India” (The Times of India may 15, 2017) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/meerut/modi-yogi-want-to-replace-constitution-with-manusmriti-dalit-leader/articleshow/58687894.cms> accessed May 25, 2019.
 “Muslim Cleric Shot Dead in Canning – Indian Express” (Archive) <http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/muslim-cleric-shot-dead-in-canning/1076801> accessed May 25, 2019.
 Tan, “’1600 Arson Cases in State since 2010′ | Guwahati News-Times of India” (The Times of India June 12, 2013) <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/20564308.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst> accessed May 25, 2019.
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