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India: Remission of life sentence to convicts in Bilkis Bano case - Select Editorials, Commentary, reports | Aug 2022

Tuesday 23 August 2022, by siawi3


India: Remission of life sentence to convicts in Bilkis Bano case - Select Editorials, Commentary, reports | Aug 2022

20 August 22


The Indian Express, August 17, 2022


Remission of life sentence to Bilkis Bano’s attackers is a travesty, a betrayal of PM’s promise

Bilkis Bano and her extended family were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002 while they were fleeing their village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. The Supreme Court intervened in the case after Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission.

The ruling of the CBI court was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017 and in 2019, the SC awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis.

In his Independence Day speech to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked: “Can we not pledge to get rid of everything in our behaviour, culture and everyday life that humiliates and demeans women?” On the same day, in a decision that violates the letter and spirit of the PM’s address that celebrated “naari shakti”, a Gujarat government panel approved a plea for remission for 11 convicts serving life sentences in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case. Besides rape, the 11 men had been convicted for the murder of Bilkis’s three-year-old child and 13 others, all Muslims, by a CBI special court in 2008. The remission in a case that lies at the heart of the continuing search for justice after the communal violence in Gujarat 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.

Bilkis and her extended family were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002 while they were fleeing their village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. The Supreme Court intervened in the case after Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission. The trial was shifted out of Gujarat to Maharashtra on the SC’s direction after she received death threats. The ruling of the CBI court was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017 and in 2019, the SC awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis. The court also indicted policemen who investigated the case. Since her attackers are from her own village, Bilkis continues to fear for her life and is unable to return home. Remission is a statutory provision; it is not unusual for prison boards to clear convicts who have spent a minimum of 14 years in jail. However, 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. It is disturbing and disappointing that the SC, which had stepped in to ensure that Bilkis and other victims and survivors of Gujarat 2002 received justice, allowed a remission plea by one of the convicts earlier this year in May, which led to the state government setting up the prison board that has now ordered the release of all 11 convicts.

The Supreme Court needs to step in once again. To speak up once more for a woman who has stood her ground, braving all threats, in the courageous pursuit of justice. The court must direct that the remission be revoked. Two decades after the riots, as the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case walk free, activist Teesta Setalvad and police officer R B Sreekumar, who fought on the side of the petitioners, are in jail — the police took their cue from the court, its verdict became the basis for the FIRs. The apex court must ensure that the injustice to Bilkis Bano is reversed. It knows what is at stake.

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The Telegraph, 19.08.22


Free for all: Editorial on BJP govt’s decision to release rapists, murderers in Bilkis Bano case

The action came at a time when PM Narendra Modi mentioned the need to preserve women’s dignity during his Independence Day speech

This year’s Independence Day witnessed an unusual freedom. Eleven rapists and murderers, given life terms for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven of her family members including her three-year-old daughter during the Gujarat violence of 2002, were granted remission from their sen¬tences. Although the Supreme Court had asked the Gujarat government to look into the possible remission of the sentence for one of the convicts who had filed an application after spending, with the others, 15 years in jail, the other 10 were also released by the decision of a government commit¬tee. Remission of sentence on a national occasion is not exceptional. But the Centre had decided that such releases for the 75th anniversary of Independence would not include rapists and mur¬derers. That was in line with the prime minister’s Independence Day speech, in which he mentioned the need to preserve women’s dignity. It is re¬markable that Gujarat completely overturned the Centre’s policy. The distance between words and action had been growing wider for a while — eight years? — and this was just one of its more striking examples.

The release of the convicts was celebrated openly, while Ms Bano and her family still live in fear. Both tragic and sinister, this situation repre¬sented the spirit informing the committee’s deci¬sion. Are prisons lightening their load of rapists in order to make more space for dissidents and protesters who can be incarcerated indefinitely without bail and without trial? But the central issue here is the policy of remission. The prin¬ciples behind the traditional practice allow for ambiguity. Should a convicted rapist or murder¬er given a life term have his sentence remitted just because he has served 14 years? That is the minimum period an offender must serve before a state government decides if he fulfils the condi¬tions that would permit remission. The question is whether remission should depend on these con¬ditions, including incarceration for 14 years, or on the severity or heinousness of the crime. It is a question about justice itself. Whom does justice serve? Why are state governments, which are at base political, empowered to free or restrain of¬fenders by ticking boxes? The issue of remission certainly requires scrutiny, although that does not excuse the Gujarat government’s decision to free those convicted of gang rape and multiple murders.


The Times of India, August 17, 2022

Error of remission: Gujarat government had more than enough grounds to not release Bilkis case convicts


Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission of sentence to 11 lifers convicted for mass murder and gangrape in the Bilkis Bano case raises several questions. True, this May the Supreme Court had ruled, without going into the merits of the case, that the Gujarat government must decide on the convicts’ freedom based on a 1992 policy that allowed remission for those who served 14 clear years of their life term. But this made it a matter of discretion for the state, and there were enough grounds for it to apply the discretion the other way.

First, there’s an SC verdict, Laxman Naskar vs Union of India, in which the court ruled that the state must determine “whether the offence is an individual act of crime without affecting the society at large” before granting remission. Surely, the horrific nature of the crime and the tragic context – 14 people including several women and Bilkis’s daughter were massacred and a pregnant Bilkis herself was subjected to gangrape during the 2002 Gujarat riots – made the Naskar judgment relevant here? Second, in June, Union home ministry guidelines on remission clearly stated that life convicts and rapists were not to be granted special remission.

The Naskar judgment and the MHA guidelines should have provided more than enough ground for the Gujarat government to keep the 11 lifers in jail. That it chose to do otherwise seems even more of a blow to natural justice given what Bilkis Bano had gone through after her trauma. There were attempts to destroy evidence in the case, for which doctors and police officials were convicted. The trial had to be shifted to Mumbai to allow Bilkis to depose safely. In 2019 SC had belatedly granted her Rs 50 lakh compensation, recognising the injustice dealt to her at various stages of her long ordeal. The question of judicial review of the Gujarat government’s decision is complicated by SC granting discretion to the state. But that such a review would be ideal is not in the slightest doubt.

While ordering the release of the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the Gujarat government went against the opinion of the Mumbai trial court that had sentenced them to life imprisonment for rape and murder, has learnt.

The trial court had given a “negative opinion” on the remission plea, according to a member of the jail advisory committee that took a decision on it.

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Deccan Chronicle, Aug 18, 2022


Why did Gujarat flout rules to free Bilkis convicts?

The denouement is tragic and overlaid with cruel irony, underlying yet again the opening of wounds in carefully nurtured fashion through state inaction — and frequently action — which is usually cheered on by fanatical gangs that appear to have a free pass, liberated from any constraint by the law and order authorities, and not infrequently viewed through a Nelson’s eye by elements in the judiciary.

The 11 men convicted for life in the case of the gang rape of Bilkis Bano, a young woman who was then five months pregnant, and the cold-blooded murder of 14 of her relations, including her three-year-old daughter, were set free, of all days, on Independence Day. Rapists and murderers, among them a head constable of police, were released from prison as a part of a policy of remission of jail terms to mark the officially proclaimed “Amrit Mahotasav” attending on the 75th anniversary of Independence.

When the released convicts walked out of jail, they were greeted outside with sweets and celebration. In today’s atmosphere it is not hard to guess who or what sorts of organisations might be in the background feting criminals whose grisly actions of 2002 must meet every criterion that goes into the making of the “rarest of the rare” that judges are sometimes called upon to consider.

The evening celebration made up the remains of the day which began in the morning at the Red Fort in the nation’s capital from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi informed the country that his heart “ached” when the dignity of women was taken away and when they were treated unjustly. We may only speculate if, upon getting the news of the guilty being released, the PM subjected the chief minister of Gujarat to a grilling.

The Bilkis Bano case was among the most hair-raising of the many despicable episodes that occurred during the communal carnage of February-March, 2022 in Gujarat, when Mr Modi was CM. The bodies of those killed had been mutilated, post-mortem. The skulls had gone missing. This looked like a clear conspiracy on a mega- and high-level-scale to erase evidence and prevent identification. The nation’s conscience was shocked. Bilkis Bano, who survived, knew the criminals. She received death threats and moved house 20 times in two years to dodge her hunters. The Supreme Court ordered a CBI investigation and the trial to be taken out of Gujarat and to be held in Maharashtra, such was the vicious atmosphere in Gujarat. A special CBI court gave life terms to the guilty. This was upheld by the Bombay high court.

To celebrate the “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”, the Centre issued guidelines to release large numbers of prisoners across the country. This seemed a good idea. Roughly 75 per cent of those in our jails are undertrials, and are in most cases poor people, held for petty crimes. Freeing them would be giving them back their dignity. In any case, many would have already been in jail much longer than the sentence they may have been given if they were convicted.

But the Centre’s guidelines excluded from the remission scheme prisoners serving term for heinous offences and those imprisoned for life. The Gujarat government chose to overlook this. It must be asked why. Is it because state elections are coming up and communal embers can be stoked by setting certain kinds of prisoners free?

In law, those sentenced for the whole of their natural life cannot be considered for release even if they have been in jail for 14 years. And yet, the Jail Advisory Committee that recommended the ending of the jail term for the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case was chaired by the district magistrate. The district judge and the police superintendent were members. These officials need to be questioned. And the matter cannot be left to languish at the district and the sub-jail level.

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Is this How Justicee Ends? Pratap Bhanu Mehta

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Bilkis case: Those who deserve noose should not be garlanded by SA Aiyar (The Times of India, August 21, 2022)

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The Bilkis Bano case should matter to every woman by Barkha Dutt (Hindustan Times, Aug 19, 2022)

Despite devoting 17 years of her life to battling for justice, the 11 men who violated Bilkis were released early from jail. This is an unspeakable injustice. Can any woman’s fight for justice end like this?

[Text forward via WhatsApp and Facebook:

Barkha Dutt

I’m saying this as one woman to another.
I’m saying this to all of you.
Can you even imagine what it feels like to be five months pregnant and have a mob of men lunge at you, one by one, as they rape you?

Then, imagine, that you are forced to witness the gang rape of your mother, who has just been compelled to helplessly watch yours. Then comes the turn of your two sisters. And if this isn’t macabre enough, think of yourself lying bruised and bleeding on the floor, your arm broken by your rapists, as your three-year-old daughter is killed in front of your eyes, her head smashed with a stone.

Worse, imagine that you know these men. They aren’t strangers; they are your neighbours. They buy milk from your family. You thought they were your friends.

Imagine then that you devote 17 years of your life to battling for justice in the courts of India, moving 20 times along the way because your case has been initially transferred outside of your home state or because you fear for your safety. And then just when you think maybe, you are finally strong enough to start the process of healing and living, the 11 men who did this to you are released early from jail by an executive order of the State.

Even for the most hardened, jaded hacks, some stories feel personal. Bilkis Bano is one such for me.

The night I met her in a relief camp in Godhra, huddled together with other women, under a tarpaulin sheet, by the fading flicker of a kerosene lamp, was 20 years ago. But after the headlines of this week, it feels like yesterday.

I remember that as she recounted what had been done to her that night, she did not cry. She wore the trauma in her eyes with a blank, broken expression, as if something inside her was dead. Her husband Yakub told me that since the men who raped her and killed her child were let free — greeted outside the prison with sweets and garlands — Bilkis seems to have lapsed into the same numbness. She is barely speaking. She feels alone.

You would think it’s not possible to add any more insult to Bilkis’s injury. Think again.

A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator, CK Raulji, one of the members on the Gujarat panel that recommended the release of these convicts, told Mojo Story, the digital platform I helm, that these men were “Brahmins, and Brahmins have good sanskaar (culture). Their conduct in jail was good.” As the video interview with my colleague went viral, party sympathisers & supporters were also embarrassed. Our interview on the “Sanskaari” rapists settles one thing conclusively: There is nothing reformative in the decision to release these men after 14 years, as part of a prisoner remission scheme. Raulji went on to question their guilt: “Crime kiya ya nahin kiya, pata nahin (whether they did the crime or not, I do not know.)”

An unspeakable injustice is unfolding with brazen impunity. Its legality is dodgy. The home ministry guidelines announced in the summer of 2022 make it clear that rape convicts should be excluded from prisoner programmes on early release. If the Gujarat government has acted under an old 1992 law, then legal experts say it would have mandatorily needed the approval of someone in the central government. There is a veil of opacity over who gave the green signal and at what level.

Shobha Gupta, the lawyer for Bilkis Bano, has battled for years alongside the rape survivor to secure her justice. She told me that she is shattered and unable to face Bilkis. And yet when I ask her whether Bilkis will petition the court against the Gujarat government’s decision, her words put me to shame.

“How much courage can one human being have? Someone else should fight now. The CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] should appeal against the verdict, the Centre should appeal. The prime minister should step in.”

We can look away and pretend this is not our problem.

But woman to woman, you know it is.

Shobha Gupta told me that another woman who was sexually assaulted rang her up after these convicts walked free and dejectedly asked whether she should withdraw her case.

Where is the outrage we saw during the December 16, 2012 case?

Do these men not deserve to spend the rest of their lives in jail?

And as Bilkis asked, can any woman’s fight for justice end like this?

The answer to that question depends on how much noise we make.

Let’s raise hell.

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The Indian Express, August 22, 2022

Our Bilkis moment

Mahua Moitra writes: Just as the woman gang-raped in Delhi 2012 even in death strengthened our moral fibre, Bilkis’s shocked silence will spur us to action

Written by Mahua Moitra

For each one of us who engages in the whataboutery of placing the crimes of these 11 men in a make-believe moral spectrum of bad, worse and worst must remember this: It doesn’t get any worse than this. (Photo: Express Archive)

The visuals of Bilkis Bano’s rapists and the murderers of her family being garlanded are fresh for all to see. The Union government’s silence is deafening. This nation is being drip fed via the BJP’s insidious propaganda system that the state of Gujarat had nothing to do with the release of these 11 convicted men, now being celebrated as heroes, as Bilkis’s husband painfully puts it, and that it acted on the Supreme Court’s direction. In fact, the court only noted the applicable remission policy, which allows for remission of the sentences of convicts who have spent 14 years in jail. It did not compel the release of the convicts. The decision to free the rapists and killers — instead of letting them remain in jail, as the policy allows — was entirely that of the government.

For those of us who deal with the BJP’s Goebbelsian doublespeak on a daily basis, this should come as no surprise. And yet, this time feels different. The stark facts of a young pregnant woman being gang-raped in front of her mother, then forced to watch the rape of her mother and her two sisters. Then made to watch her three-year-old’s head smashed. Make no mistake — these facts were proven in court and the “sanskari Brahmins” found guilty. This is no case of innocent till proven guilty, no case of undertrials being given the benefit of doubt. These 11 were proven guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the most heinous crimes of gang-rape and murder. No one, not even the most ardent Sanghi, can dispute this inalienable fact.

How, then, in a country where average pendencies are upwards of 14 years, where undertrials serve years in prison without being charge-sheeted, where convicts with crimes far less heinous than that of the 11 in the Bilkis Bano case serve 30-40 years of life terms without being considered for remission, did these men walk free?

The answer, simply, lies in method.

It has taken a special blend of the right-wing’s hatred for Muslims, its visceral disregard for women as equals, its absolute belief that the law is fundamentally an ass, and its desire to reap electoral benefits from every situation, no matter how unfortunate, that has reprised Polonius’s dictum: Though this be evil, yet there is method in it.

This method is what led to the BJP using the order of the Supreme Court as a smokescreen to aver that the court had somehow compelled the remission.

The remission of a sentence is an exclusively executive prerogative. The Supreme Court as far back as in State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ratan Singh (1976) 3 SCC 470, settled this debate by clarifying that pardon, remission and commutation are within the exclusive domain of executive decision-making. It is not our judiciary that has let us down, but rather the executive machinery — the BJP government of Gujarat — which has commuted the punishment awarded to these rapists and murderers.

The other manifestation of the method in evil was the government’s malevolence in applying its 1992 remission policy. Its updated 2014 policy explicitly lists gang-rape and murder as offences for which remission is impermissible, but this does not mean a request for early release made by rapists and murderers under the 1992 policy has to be granted. Moreover, Section 435 of the CrPC clearly states that in cases investigated by agencies governed by the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the states have to act in consultation with the Union government. Bilkis’s tormentors were convicted by a CBI court — where, then, is the evidence that the government of Gujarat consulted the Centre on remission in this case? Established case law in D Krishna Kumar vs State of Telangana had the high court lay down that the appropriate authority deciding a remission should consider the opinion of the presiding judge of the court before or by which the conviction was had or confirmed. The government has said nothing about this so far.

Half of the panel that decided on the remission was directly linked to the BJP. Two were BJP legislators. One was a BJP office-bearer, and one a former office-bearer of the local BJP. The others — the district collector, superintendent of police and jail superintendent — report directly to the state government. The method is clear.

As with all heinous crimes, it is most often the spectators who play a more defining role than even the perpetrators. Indians today risk being reduced to collective participants in the crime against Bilkis, in the murder of her child and in the decimation of the members of her family. For each one of us who engages in the whataboutery of placing the crimes of these 11 men in a make-believe moral spectrum of bad, worse and worst must remember this: It doesn’t get any worse than this.

To have gang-rapists, the killers of a 3-year-old walk out of jail and be feted with a hero’s welcome with the active connivance of an entire establishment requires a very special kind of evil. But for every BJP voice that lauds this “sanskar”, there exists a Kali, waiting in the wings, tongue out and foot raised, who will fight back. Like the young woman gang-raped in Delhi 2012, who even in death strengthened the moral fibre of India, Bilkis even in shocked silence will spur us to action.

The writer is a Trinamool Congress MP

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Bilkis Bano aur Isaaf Ka Khatma / Bilkis Bano and the End of Justice - A discussion in Hindi

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Bilkis Bano Case : ’Gujarat Govt Has No Jurisdiction To Grant Remission’ - Rebecca John | Interview

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Some relevant News Reports:

Bilkis Bano: The pain of seeing my rapists go free by Geeta Pandey

Bereft of words, still numb: Bilkis Bano

The survivor breaks her silence on the release of 11 convicts; words of support for her pour in | Sabrangindia 18 Aug 2022

Gujarat ignored trial court’s opinion as board with five BJP members set Bilkis Bano convicts free
Two BJP MLAs and three other members of the party were on the board that decided the remission plea of the 11 men.
by Arunabh Saikia & Aishwarya Iyer

Bilkis Bano case: USCIRF says release of convicts ‘part of a pattern’ in India
(Hindustan Times - Published on Aug 20, 2022)

Bilkis case convicts threatened witnesses in past, show records
(Hindustan Times - Published on Aug 20, 2022)

Did you give Gujarat permission to release rapists overlooking 2014 norms, Congress asks PM (Economic Times, Aug 18, 2022)