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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Bilkis Bano Case: 11 Men Sentenced To Life Imprisonment Released Under Gujarat Govt’s Remission Policy

Gujarat's decision appears to be at odds with the Centre's principled opposition to the release of rape convicts; this opposition is expressly stated on page 4, point 5(vi) of the Centre's guidelines, which are available on the Home Ministry's Official website

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INDIA.Gujarat: All 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2002 gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven members of her family left the Godhra jail on Monday after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its amnesty policy.

In June this year, when the Center proposed a special policy to release convicted prisoners tagged ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years of Independence), the Center issued guidelines to the states. Rape convictions are listed among those who will not be released under the policy.

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However, governments at the Center and in Gujarat, both ruled by the BJP appear to differ on how to deal with rape convicts. In acquitting the 11 men convicted of conspiracy to rape a pregnant woman and murder, the Gujarat government followed its own policy following a Supreme Court directive in May to consider a pardon request by one of the convicts.

However, Gujarat’s decision appears to be at odds with the Centre’s principled opposition to the release of rape convicts. This opposition is expressly stated on page 4, point 5(vi) of the Centre’s guidelines, which are available on the Home Ministry’s official website.

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One of the points says that no one with a life sentence will be released, which would also disqualify the 11 lifers in the Bilkis Bano case.

On March 3, 2002, at the age of 21 and five months pregnant, Bilkis Bano was raped and her toddler daughter killed along with six other family members. They were hiding in fields near Ahmedabad, hoping to escape the violence that erupted after the burning of the Sabarmati Express bus that killed 59 “kar sevaks” just a few days ago.

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On 21 January 2008, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai sentenced 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bana’s family. Their convictions were later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

In 2019, the Supreme Court even ordered the Gujarat government to give her ₹50 lakh as compensation in addition to a house and a job. After three years, the convicts are set free.

The release came after one of the convicts went to court earlier this year to seek early release under the Criminal Code as he had served about 15 years. The Supreme Court said the decision can be taken by the Gujarat government under its 1992 policy which was in force at the time of the conviction.

After their release on Monday, the convicts were welcomed with sweets outside the Godhra jail.

Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul said the family did not want to comment on the release yet, “We have not been told about it… All we want to do is pray for the peace of the souls of our near and dear ones who lost their lives in turmoil.”

“I am happy to be out,” said Radheshyam Shah, a convict whose plea paved the way for release, “I will be able to meet my family members and start a new life,” he added.

Rasul said he, his wife Bilkis and their five sons, the eldest one is 20 now, continue to live without a permanent address. “Every day we remember those who were killed in the incident, including our daughter.”

Also Read: 35-Year Old Woman Gangraped in Bhandara, Dumped Naked on Roadside

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