The government of the day has taken yet another controversial decision. However, calling it just controversial is an understatement. It has left the victims shell-shocked and the common people stunned.
The decision in question is the release and concomitant exoneration of the 11 men accused of raping a pregnant 19-year-old woman in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Bilkis Bano was five months pregnant when she was gangraped at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Gujarat’s Dahod district in March 2002. Subsequently, she also saw the murder of her little daughter and six other members of her family.
Now in her late 30s, Bilkis Bano and her husband Yakub Rasul have been left shocked by the decision of the Gujarat government. They are also, understandably, scared. Talking to NDTV’s Vishnu Som, Rasul said, “We are still in shock and don’t know whether we will question it. We have no legal papers and don’t know much right now. What happened with us is complete injustice,” he said. “We can’t say anything whether we’ll move to another place or not,” Rasul said when asked if they will move from their current home.
In her statement following the decision, Bilkis said, “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,” she added.
She also appealed to the Gujarat government for a roll-back. “No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision… Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” the statement read.
Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul told PTI that he, his wife and five sons, the eldest now aged 20, continue to live without a fixed address, more than 20 years after the incident. The Supreme Court had, in April 2019, directed the Gujarat government to give ₹50 lakh compensation, a job and accommodation to Bilkis.
Along with the other decisions of the current central government — demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, announcement of NRC-CAA, passage of controversial farm laws and their subsequent rollback — this one has left more people stupefied. The question everyone is asking is if these men were not guilty of gangrape and murder, why did they spend over 14 years in prison?
The 11 convicts walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on Monday, August 15, after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai had, on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court on May 3, 2017. It also convicted seven others, including five policemen and two doctors, under IPC sections 218 (not performing their duties) and 201 (tampering with evidence).
The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.
Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea for premature release paved the way for all the 11 life sentence convicts to walk out of jail, said he feels happy to be released. “The Gujarat government has released us as per the order of the Supreme Court. I feel glad to be out as I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life,” he said. “We were convicted and lodged in jail. When I was not released after completing 14 years in jail, I approached the Supreme Court for remission. The top court directed the Gujarat government to take a decision, after which we were released,” he added.
Riots had erupted in Gujarat following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks’ on February 27, 2002. The violence had claimed the lives of 1,044 people, mostly Muslims, across different parts of the state. The central government had informed the Rajya Sabha in May 2005 that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the post-Godhra riots.