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11 Convicts in the Bilkis Bano Case Set Free: Lawyers, Activists Respond

ICF Team |
In January 2008, a Mumbai court sentenced 11 out of 19 accused to life imprisonment for gangrape and murder.
Bilkis Bano

Bilkis Bano at a press conference. Image Courtesy: National Herald

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the safety and empowerment of women in his independence day speech, 11 convicts who were serving life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano case were set free from the Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government permitted their release under its remission policy.

The 11 convicts are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

In January 2008, a Mumbai court sentenced 11 out of 19 accused to life imprisonment for gangrape and murder. The Bombay High Court upheld the conviction in May 2017 and Bilkis Bano was awarded compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs by the Supreme Court in 2019.

Lawyers, activists and writers respond to the Gujarat government’s decision of releasing the lifers, condemning it and demanding that the order be rescinded.

The release of all the 11 convicted of gangrape of several women and the mass murder of these women (except for Bilkis who survived) along with male members of their families and of Bilkis’ three-year-old daughter is an abomination. On the day of this release, the Prime Minister exhorts his fellow Indians to respect women from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of Independence Day in the 75th year of our Independence. There could be no greater exposure of the real attitude of his political colleagues and himself to those who brutalise, rape and murder women and children. This release is a harsh comment on the ‘discretion’ of the Gujarat government. Is this the kind of discretion that was envisaged by those who framed a law allowing a government to set people free after they had served 14 years of a life sentence? It is important to note that the BJP-ruled Central government had issued a clarification that rapists should not be given the benefit of this law.

Not only is this release an abomination and something that will greatly endanger the safety and well-being of Bilkis Bano and her family for which the Gujarat government has not spared a thought, it will also embolden many who subscribe to the ideology of the ruling party that they can now rape and kill at will and with impunity.

Finally, the sight of men and women greeting the released criminals with sweets and garlands is one more proof of how the relentless campaign by the ruling party and its agents in the media is robbing so many of their humanity. This release must not go unopposed and unchallenged.

– Subhashini Ali

The power of premature release given to the executive is meant to ensure an element of human or social justice that may evade the letter of the law or the judicial process. Yet, we see that State Governments routinely refuse a premature release even in a crime done without premeditation, or where there is only a single act or a single victim. The release of the Bilkis convicts with such promptness in a case of gangrape and 7 murders, that is multiple premeditated crimes and that too during communal riots, therefore shocks the people’s conscience. What is the social justice or human justice in this case to merit the state’s healing touch? Does the State empathise with the deed or the doer? If ever there was a crime that deserved no quarter, it was the Bilkis case. Yet all 11 convicts have been set free by the State of Gujarat. One does want to see humanising trends in penology. But the stark truth is that people have been in jail or even on death row for decades without their pleas even being considered by courts or by the executive. Which is why this recent release shocks and evokes condemnation.

– Nitya Ramakrishnan

The Indian criminal justice system is reformative and not retributive, which is why powers of remission and commutation of sentence is provided for. However, heinousness of crime is a deciding factor in exercising this discretion. In Bilkis Bano’s case, the facts show the brutality of a crime that was committed with an intent to target her and her family because of their religion in a communal pogrom. This is a rarest of rare fact situation. Therefore, the decision shows that these important considerations were completely ignored while ordering release of the 11 convicts after 14 years, and is wrong.

– Warisha Farasat

The release of the 11 guilty of gangrape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case is shocking. Visuals of them being feted are even more disturbing. The pattern emerging is one of putting those who intervene on behalf of justice for victims behind bars while releasing those convicted for gangrape and murder. Will our Supreme Court take note of such travesty of justice? Or are we to accept that the message being sent out is that those guilty of crimes, especially against minorities, are to be offered ‘special’ treatment alongside ‘rewards’ for ‘good behaviour’?

– Indu Agnihotri

The release of 11 convicts sentenced for life for the murder of seven people and gangrape of three women is a questionable decision. The remission runs contrary to the principles of natural justice especially in cases of crimes against women. This is a major setback in the battle for justice for victims and survivors of the Gujarat violence of 2002. The Supreme Court must step in to ensure justice to Bilkis Bano and other victims of that horrific violence.

– Zoya Hasan

The release of 11 lifers convicted of murder and gangrape in the Bilkis Bano case on Independence Day is Intolerable injustice with which to mark the 75th anniversary of independence.

– Nivedita Menon

The Gujarat government’s order releasing 11 criminals convicted in the Bilkis Bano case of gangrape and murder of seven persons including a three-year-old child is shocking, shameful and condemnable. It is a blatant violation of its own and that of the central government’s Resolution of January 23, 2014 (Annexure 1/Clause IV c) excluding those convicted of rape, gangrape and murder, of benefits of remission from a full life term imprisonment. Of what value is the Prime Minister’s statements for women’s dignity from the ramparts of the Red Fort when his own party led government shows such criminal partisanship towards rapists and murderers. It is sheer hypocrisy. The order must be immediately rescinded.

– Brinda Karat

It’s tragic that just at the time the Prime Minister was talking about women being central to the growth of India, the government of Gujarat was letting off a bunch of rapists and killers, and that their release was being celebrated with garlands. Clearly, despite the many battles the women’s movement has won in this country, we have not been able to undo the deeply sedimented layers of misogyny and patriarchy in India.

– Urvashi Butalia

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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