Bilkis Bano said in a statement on Wednesday that the premature release of all the 11 gang-rape and massacre convicts serving life sentences in the Gujarat riots case of 2002 had shaken her faith in justice and left her numb.
A pregnant Bilkis was gang-raped during the 2002 Gujarat riots and seven members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered.
The 11 convicts were released under a remission policy in BJP-run Gujarat on the 75th anniversary of Independence at a time Prime Minister Narendra Modi was delivering from the Red Fort sermons on respecting and empowering women.
The following is the statement issued by Bilkis through her advocate Shobha: “Two days ago, on August 15, 2022, 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.
“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. “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.”Earlier on Wednesday, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi had said the entire country had witnessed the disparity between Narendra Modi’s “words and deeds”, with life convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and massacre case being freed in Gujarat.
The Congress underlined that the law required the Union government to have concurred with the state government on the decision to free the convicts because the CBI, a central agency, had investigated the case, implying the Prime Minister or the Union home minister would have approved the release.
Rahul tweeted: “Those who raped a five-month pregnant woman and killed her three-year-old daughter were released in the midst of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav…. What’s the message being given to the women of the country by the leader who lies about women’s empowerment? Prime Minister, the entire country is witnessing the disparity between your words and deeds.”
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted: “Release by the BJP government of criminals convicted of raping a pregnant woman and killing her daughter, a judgment upheld by all courts — isn’t this the climax of injustice and insensitivity? Mr Narendra Modi, women are asking — respect for women is restricted to speeches only?”
Insisting that the decision to free the convicts was executive, not judicial, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said: “The Supreme Court hadn’t ordered the release; it merely asked the Gujarat government to decide on a petition for early release within two months. The state officials are saying the decision was taken according to the 1992 remission policy. Did the state government bring to the notice of the Supreme Court that the 1992 policy had been scrapped by them in 2013?”
The 1992 remission policy is critical here as the Supreme Court had asked the Gujarat government to decide the case according to this scheme, which was in force when the conviction happened in 2008.Without this escape route, early release was impossible because of a Union home ministry directive to all state governments in 2014 that certain categories of convicts, including those found guilty of rape and murder, cannot be pardoned.
Khera said the 1992 policy cannot apply because the Gujarat government had abrogated it on May 8, 2013, through an executive order and this fact was hidden from the Supreme Court.He added: “Section 435 of the CrPC clearly says that the state will have to seek approval of the central government for mercy or early release if the case is investigated by any central agency. When the then chief minister, Jayalalithaa, decided to release the killers of Rajiv Gandhi, the Supreme Court had ruled that the state alone cannot decide because the central agencies were involved in the probe.”
Khera said: “Both the Prime Minister and home minister Amit Shah are from Gujarat. They should disclose whether the state government sought their permission to release the rape-and-murder convicts. If permission was granted, make it public. The nation should know what the Prime Minister says from the ramparts of the Red Fort and what he actually does. Let the world know the Prime Minister’s quest for women’s safety and empowerment is just hollow rhetoric. If no approval was sought, they should explain what action will be taken against the Gujarat chief minister.”The Congress asked the Gujarat chief minister to reveal the names of the members of the jail advisory committee that first recommended the release of the 11 convicts.
“When was the recommendation made for the release and on what grounds?” Khera asked. The Congress also asked other Opposition parties, particularly the AAP, and the media why they were silent now and reminded them of the protests in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder in a bus.“Will the cry for justice be decided by the religion of the victim and which party is in power?” Khera asked, warning against tendencies that point to a rot in society.