How Can Justice For Anyone End Like This?Aug 26, 2022 | Shalini Rai
The outrage over the decision to grant remission to 11 life convicts in the case of Bilkis Bano’s gangrape and the murder of her family members refuses to fade away. On Thursday, the Supreme Court sought responses from the Union government and the Gujarat government on a plea challenging the remission given to 11 life convicts in the case.
A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana issued notice to the Union government and the Gujarat state government on the plea and asked the petitioners to implead (to bring into the lawsuit) those who have been granted remission as parties in the matter. The apex court also posted the matter for hearing after two weeks.
The plea has been filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and activist Roop Rekha Rani. The 11 convicts walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.
The decision has been met with disbelief, shock and indignation by various sections of society. Even the most ardent admirers of the current political dispensation have been rendered speechless by the development. “I cannot quite believe this decision was taken by the government. I have no words,” said a government school teacher in Central India, on condition of anonymity.
Two days after the convicts were released, Bilkis Bano issued a statement saying their release had shaken her faith in justice. “Two days ago, on August 15, 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 3-year-old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words,” Bano said in her statement.
“Today, I can only say 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,” Bano added.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday demanded justice for Bano and alleged that those giving hollow slogans like ‘Beti Bachao’ are “saving rapists”. Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, “Those giving hollow slogans like ‘Beti Bachao’ are saving rapists. Today, the question is about the respect and rights of the women of the country. Give justice to Bilkis Bano.”
The BJP’s support to criminals displays the party’s mindset towards women, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he was ashamed of “such politics”.
He cited the examples of rape cases in Unnao and Hathras in Uttar Pradesh, Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and now Gujarat. “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,” Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi. “Are you not ashamed of such politics, Prime Ministerji?” 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 CK 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.
He asked whether this was a neutral, non-partisan panel of experts in criminology and penology and said the district collector was the chairperson.
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. A special CBI court in Mumbai had, on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
On August 18, retired Justice UD Salvi stated that the remission of their sentence sets a “very dangerous precedent.”
“It has created a really bad precedent. This is incorrect, in my opinion. Convicted individuals in other gang rape cases will now request the same relief,” according to a remark from him in Bar and Bench. “The verdict was rendered many years ago. The government is in control of it at this time. A choice must be made by the state. The court in question or a higher court should decide whether it is correct or not,” Justice Salvi said.
On 3 March, 2002, Bilkis Bano’s family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district during the post-Godhra riots. Bilkis, who was 21 years old and five months pregnant at that time, was gang-raped and 14 members of her family were killed. Among those killed were her three-year-old daughter.
Riots had erupted in Gujarat following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks’ on 27 February 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.