There has been an outpouring of editorial opinions and release of public statements on Twitter against the Gujarat Government’s ill-advised decision to prematurely release 11 convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case. The incident, which happened during Gujarat’s communal pogrom of 2002, resulted in the heinous murder of seven persons and the gang rape of three women.
THE premature release of the 11 convicts in the Bilks Bano case is in violation of the Union Government’s guidelines for remission which exclude those who are convicted of rape and murder. Apart from the opposition political parties, those who expressed their outrage over the premature release included a number of civil society organisations and NGOs, which shows that the state government’s decision has led to widespread disenchantment and dismay cutting across party lines.
One of these is the All India Working Women Forum of All India Trade Union Congress, a non-profit organisation and movement working at the grassroots level. The AIWWF-AITUC noted, in a press release, that these 11 convicts, in any yardstick, do not deserve consideration for early release. It has strongly urged the Union Government to intervene to withdraw the release of these convicts.
Further, the press release pointed out the “weird dichotomy” of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, talking of respecting ‘narishakthi’ in his Independence day address from the ramparts of the red fort, and on the same day, his own party-led government releasing the convicts found guilty of rape. “Deceptive double talk of ‘beti bachao’ is flagrantly exposed yet again,” said the press release.
According to AIWWF-AITUC, the convicts’ premature release is double jeopardy of gender and religion. “The odious blend of gender prejudice and communal hatred of the Hindutva ideology has reached a crescendo…. Nothing that happens is casual,” said the press release.
“This is indeed a disgraced and ignominious reality that India is dishonourably faced with”, it commented.
Also read: Descent into Darkness
The premature release of the rapists brings more outrage now than the wretched pain and desolate anguish of the blood-curdling act of gang rape of Bilkis Bano, a pregnant woman and the brutal killing of her family including her three-year-old daughter”, AIWWF stated. “This release is an affront against the doctrine of justice and a slur on the constitutional commitment to protect women”, it added. The AIWWF-AITUC termed the release as shameful, outrageous and condemnable, and has demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the release and the reincarnation of the criminals.
The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) has also questioned the Gujarat Government’s decision, terming it as biased. In a Facebook post, it challenged the basis of the decision. Does the remission want to restore the rule of impunity for communal killers and rapists? it asked.
Well-known journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai, tweeted:
“The 11 men who were convicted of gang-raping then 21-year old Bilkis Bano and murdering 7 members of her family are free, their life sentence remitted. If they roam around in the same village as Bilkis, will she ever be able to live a normal life? Is this ‘justice’? #BilkisBano”
Asaduddin Owaisi, President, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, and a member of Parliament, tweeted:
“These men committed a brutal crime. Their release is a mockery of Bilqis Bano’s struggle. It reopens old wounds. BJP cannot hide behind technicalities. Govt’s own policy & Centre’s guidelines bar rapists & CBI-investigated convicts from being released”.
Former president of the Congress, and Member of Parliament, Rahul Gandhi tweeted:
“Those who raped a 5-month pregnant woman and killed her 3-year-old girl were released during the ‘Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav’.
What is the message giving to the women of the country who are talking about women power?
Prime Minister, the whole country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds”.
Also read: Supreme Court draws a parallel between 2002 Gujarat pogrom and the COVID second wave to rule out criminal conspiracy
Barkha Butt, Editor, Mojo, tweeted:
“I cant forget the night I met #BilkisBano in a relief camp, her arm in a cast, broken by the marauders who first raped her mother, her two sisters, killed her 3 years daughter & took turns assaulting a pregnant Bilkis. Bilkis & Yaqub named their newborn after their dead child.
Mother & daughter were gang raped in front of the other & lay bleeding, Bilkis pregnant, as 3 year old Saleha was murdered. In a country where so many justify encounter killing as a means to justice, was life imprisonment really too little for the men who did this #BilkisBano.”
Lawyer and human rights activist, Vrinda Grover, told Barkha Dutt, in her programme, Bottomline with Barkha, that the Government has betrayed the women of India.
The Hindu, in its morning editorial, headlined “Remission without reform”, observed: “It defies logic that those convicted for direct involvement in the rape of three women, the murder of a three-year-old and six others can be considered candidates for premature release under any remission policy.”
The state government has reportedly claimed that it relied for its decision on the Supreme Court’s order in May, under which the state government had been held to be the “appropriate government” to consider the premature release of one of the convicts in this case under its 1992 remission policy. One of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah, approached the Supreme Court for premature release on the grounds that he had completed more than 14 years of imprisonment.
The Hindu wondered whether we could treat this as a waiver of the requirement under Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which makes consultation with the Centre mandatory. The Hindu reminded that ‘consultation’ meant ‘concurrence’ under this provision, as interpreted by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in 2015.
The Hindu commented that the remission runs contrary to the spirit of contemporary thinking on treating crimes against women and children, especially rape combined with murder, as so heinous that the perpetrators should not be considered for remission. It asked whether the committee that recommended remission had considered the disquieting effect the release of these prisoners might have on the survivors and other members of the affected community.
The Hindu concluded its editorial by saying the sight of the released convicts being greeted and feted on their release will not sit easy on the country’s conscience.
The Indian Express, in its editorial titled ‘Justice for Bilkis’, commented that the remission in a case that lies at the heart of the continuing search for justice after the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 portends a disquieting backsliding. “It is a grave setback for the tortuous legal battle to secure convictions in the horrific crimes of 2002 in the face of formidable obstacles and powerful odds”, it added.
Also read: Muslim women and Shaheen Bagh – role models in long and untiring protest
The Indian Express expressed its concern about the larger implications of the Gujarat Government’s decision to remit the sentence of these convicts. It said: “It is rare for the sentence of those convicted of heinous sexual crimes to be remitted. In this case, the concern that it could set a precedent cannot be ignored.”
The newspaper expressed its disappointment that the Supreme Court, which had stepped in to ensure that Bilkis and other victims and survivors of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 received justice, allowed a remission plea by one of the convicts in May, which led to the state government setting up the prison board that has recommended the release of all 11 convicts. It asked the Supreme Court to ensure that the injustice to Bilkis Bano is reversed, saying it knows what is at stake.
The Deccan Herald has, in a news analysis, pointed out that the Gujarat Government had earlier rejected the remission plea of Mushrafkhan Pathan, who has served over 25 years of life imprisonment at Sabarmati Central jail in the Radhika Gymkhana killing case. Although the Gujarat High Court had in April asked the state government to consider his case as per the 1992 remission policy and decide within six weeks, he continues to be in jail.
The newspaper referred to another case, that of Mohammed Umar alias Fighter, who is serving life imprisonment of 20 years for murdering ex-Congress MP Rauf Valliullah in 1992. The Gujarat High Court on July 7 reportedly quashed the Jail Advisory Committee’s order rejecting his plea for remission and directed the state to reconsider his case in four weeks. But he still continues in jail. These two pleas were apparently rejected by the state government citing the 2014 policy, although their convictions by special TADA courts were before 2008, and the 1992 remission policy must have been applied to them as well, the paper pointed out.
(with Editor’s inputs)