An Indian court has handed down life sentences to 11 people over the massacre of dozens of Muslims in western Gujarat state in 2002, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state's chief minister.

The court also sentenced on Friday another 12 suspects to seven years in jail, over the murder of 69 Muslims, who were hacked and burnt to death in a residential complex in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, among them women and children.

 Modi the Messiah

Another was given a 10-year term for rioting and arson.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, arguing that those targeted were all "innocent people".

Judge P B Desai on Friday described the religious violence as "one of the darkest days of civil society in Gujarat" and urged the government not to commute, shorten or otherwise alter the sentences.

He had earlier ruled that the massacre at the Gulbarg Society complex was a spontaneous attack, rejecting claims of a pre-planned conspiracy against Muslims.

Why 2002 Gujarat riots still matter

The massacre at the Gulbarg Society housing complex was one of the single worst losses of life in the week-long violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead.

Several Muslim families had taken shelter in the complex when it was stormed by a mob angered by the deaths of Hindus in a train fire.

Zakia Jafri, whose husband was killed in the massacre and who has campaigned for those responsible to be brought to justice, said "the sentences were too lenient".

"After all the horrible things they did to so many people, they still gave such flimsy sentences," Jaffri told reporters. 

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Government officials convicted

More than 100 people have already been convicted over the riots, including one of Modi's former state ministers who was jailed for instigating some of the killings.

The issue has long dogged Modi, who was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence as head of Gujarat state.

He was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012 by a Supreme Court-ordered investigation.

The violence was triggered by the death of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire on February 27, 2002 that was initially blamed on Muslims.

Hindus bent on revenge rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in one of India's worst incidents of religious violence since independence from Britain and partition in 1947.

The 2002 riot was one of India's worst incidents of religious violence since independence from Britain and partition in 1947 [Reuters]

Source: Agencies