Awaiting the special court’s sentencing on Monday, the 12 men convicted of gangraping Gujarat housewife Bilkis Bano and massacring her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots have turned to spirituality for succour at the Arthur Road prison.
Facing a minimum sentence of life behind bars and a maximum of death, some of them are reciting hymns from the Rig Veda and Bhagwad Gita while others are reading epics like Ramayana and stories from the Puranas.
Their counsel, Umesh Deshpande, claims that they have turned religious not because of the fear of death, “but because it is a preparation for the Dharma Yudh — a war of conscience in order to seek justice, not a religious holy war — which we are going to fight in the coming days.”
Deshpande says that two of the convicted, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party respectively, are spending their time in prison by chanting shlokas and performing religious rituals. Others are reading religious texts.
He says that Friday’s judgment was unexpected since his clients are innocent. “They were sentenced because of the lapses in the judicial system. We will fight our battle in the higher court to see that justice is done.”
He adds that the lower court’s verdict would be challenged in the High Court within a week of receiving the written order.