Release of rapists has shaken my faith in justice, says Bilkis Bano

Published on Aug 18, 2022 12:46 AM IST

In the statement, Bano said that no one had enquired about her safety before deciding to release the men, and appealed to the Gujarat government to reverse its move.

**EDS: VIDEO GRAB** Godhra: A man offers sweets to people convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 post-Godhra riots, after they came out of the Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, in Godhra, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. (PTI Photo)(PTI08_16_2022_000224B) (PTI)
**EDS: VIDEO GRAB** Godhra: A man offers sweets to people convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 post-Godhra riots, after they came out of the Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, in Godhra, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. (PTI Photo)(PTI08_16_2022_000224B) (PTI)

Two days after the 11 men convicted of gang-raping her and murdering seven members of her family during the Godhra riots in 2002 were set free under the Gujarat government’s sentence remission policy, Bilkis Bano issued a statement saying the decision had shaken her faith in justice.

In the statement, Bano said that no one had enquired about her safety before deciding to release the men, and appealed to the Gujarat government to reverse its move.

“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. I am still numb,” said the statement, released on Wednesday by advocate Shobha Gupta on behalf of Bano. It was first reported by NDTV.

The 11 men were released on August 15 after one of them approached the Supreme Court in April 2022 seeking remission, arguing that they had spent over 15 years in prison in the case. Bano was 21 years old and five-months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence during the 2002 riots. Her three-year-old daughter was one of the seven killed.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai in January 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder. The conviction was later upheld by the Bombay high court.

The convicts were freed on Monday after a Gujarat government panel approved their application for remission of sentence.

“Today, I can say only 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,” said Bano’s statement.

“No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision. I appeal to the Gujarat Government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” it added.

The Gujarat government has maintained that due process was followed in remitting the sentence of the convicts.

Asked what factors led to the decision to grant them remission, Raj Kumar, additional chief secretary(home) had told HT on Tuesday: “The remission of the 11 convicts was considered after taking various factors like life imprisonment term in India which is typically of 14 years or more, age, behaviour of the person and so on. The remittance application was considered on merit. It is also under the domain of the state government.”

However, opposition leaders and civil society members have alleged that rules were broken to free the men.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote: “Those who raped a five-month pregnant woman and killed her three-year-old daughter were released during ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. What message is being given to the women of the country by those who peddle lies about ‘Nari Shakti’?”

“Prime Minister ji, the entire country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds,” he said.

On Wednesday, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi had tweeted, “This is the BJP’s version of AZADI KA AMRIT. People who are guilty of a heinous crime have been given freedom. BJP’s bias for a religion is such that even brutal rape & hate crimes are forgivable.”

The Gujarat BJP had declined to comment on the matter.

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