Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan told the Supreme Court on Thursday that he was ready to unconditionally apologise for describing as “political conspiracy” the gang rape of two women near Bulandshahr in July.
The court gave Khan two weeks to file his apology and said it will lay down guidelines to make ministers answerable if their statements hurt public sentiment.
The Samajwadi Party leader requested the court not to proceed with the case filed by the victims – a 35-year-old woman and her 14-year-old daughter — seeking action against him for the “insensitive remark” and maligning the family.
The court also ordered the state government to fund the teenager’s education at a Kendriya Vidyalay of her family’s choice.
On July 29, the victims, travelling with their family, were waylaid near Bulandshahr by an armed gang. Five-to-six men held the family hostage for more than two hours in a field and beat up some of them before raping the mother and daughter and fleeing with cash and valuables.
The incident, which hit national headlines, took on political colour when Khan said, “We need to investigate whether this is a conspiracy by opponents who want to defame the government.”
The raped girl, through her father, then moved the Supreme Court seeking Khan’s prosecution.
Appearing for Khan, senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued his client had made a general remark not targeted at the family. But the judges were not impressed. They asked Sibal how a public figure like Khan could make such a comment on the crime.
“More so, you had nothing to do with the offences in question,” the bench told the counsel. Sibal argued back, contending that ministers in other governments had made “worse statements” that have gone unnoticed. He accused the media of distorting Khan’s statement made at a press conference.
“We cannot send him to jail, but can definitely always impose a fine on him as a public law remedy,” the judges remarked.