ACTIVISTS holding placards shout slogans during a protest on Thursday against the release of men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano.—AFP
ACTIVISTS holding placards shout slogans during a protest on Thursday against the release of men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Outrage and anger spread across the country on Thursday after the Gujarat government set free 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and the brutal murder of her family members during the anti-Muslim pogrom of February-March 2002.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked pointedly if Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not feel ashamed at this kind of politics.

Women’s groups and NGOs have also appealed to the Supreme Court to rescind the decision.

Assembly elections in Gujarat are due in December, and the Congress was the ruling BJP’s main challenger in the last contest five years ago. Stirring the communal pot is never far from the politics in the state, a factor that spurred the rise of Mr Modi, a middle rank Gujarati activist of the RSS, to the country’s top job.

Protest, anger spread across India over court’s decision

The trauma of the decision to free her rapists and the killers of her three-year-old daughter is heart-wrenching for Ms Bano.

In a statement on Thursday, she said, “Two days ago, on August 15, 2022, the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again when I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my three-year-old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words. I am still numb.

“Today, I can say only this — how can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

Ms Bano complained that no one inquired about her safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision.

“I appeal to the Gujarat government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe.”

The Gujarat government had released all the 11 convicts after the Supreme Court directed it to consider their plea for relief under the 1992 remission policy.

A special CBI court in Mumbai had on Jan 21, 2008, sentenced to life imprisonment all the 11 accused in the case for murder and gang-rape. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

These convicts served more than 15 years in prison, after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.

On March 3, 2002, Ms Bano’s family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. Ms Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time, was gang-raped and seven members of her family were killed by rioters.

Mr Gandhi on his part cited the examples of rape cases in Unnao and Hathras in Uttar Pradesh, Kathua in India-held Jammu and Kashmir and now Gujarat where the government released those convicted of rape and murder in the 2002 Bano case.

“Unnao — worked to save BJP MLA. Kathua — rally in favour of rapists. Hathras — the government in favour of rapists. Gujarat — the release and honour of rapists. The support to criminals displays the petty mindset of the BJP towards women,” Mr Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.

“Are you not ashamed of such politics, Prime Minister Ji,” he asked.

Discussing the release of the Bilkis Bano case convicts, senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram added that two BJP MLAs were part of the review panel that granted them remission.

“There is an interesting side story to the grant of remission to 11 persons convicted for gang rape in Gujarat. Among the Review Panel were two BJP MLAs Shri C. K. Raolji and Shri Suman Chauhan!

“Another member was Shri Murli Mulchandani who was a key witness for the prosecution in the Godhra Train burning case!,” he alleged on Twitter.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2022

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