New Delhi: On Monday, when the country was celebrating its 75 years of Independence, 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots were released.
The release came after the state government approved the remission application filed by the 11 convicts, who had been sentenced to life for gang rape and murder. If their release caused widespread shock, their subsequent felicitation by relatives exacerbated the outrage.
For the family of Bilkis Bano — who is said to have lost 14 members of her family in the riots, including her three-year-old daughter — the release stirred up traumatic memories and triggered fear.
Bano’s husband Yakub Rasool told ThePrint that they got “this news only through the media”. “When I told this to Bilkis, she was shocked,” he said.
“Our hearts sank hearing the news of their welcome. A lot of fear has grown in Bilkis’ heart. We feel a threat to our security.”
In a statement to the media, Bilkis Bano — who was pregnant when she was raped — spoke of reliving the “trauma”.
“Two days ago, on 15 August, the trauma of the past 20 years washed all over me again when I heard that the 11 convicted men, who devastated my family and my life and took away my 3-year-old daughter from me, were let free,” Bano said.
Twenty years since the riots, Bilkis Bano’s family doesn’t have a permanent address. The release of the 11 men, Rasool said, had intensified their fears. “We have to think about our safety,” he added.
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‘Whole country feels their release is wrong’
The 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Vipin Joshi, Kesharbhai Vohaniya, Pradeep Modhadiya, Bakabhai Vohaniya, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandna.
On 10 June, the Union Home Ministry wrote to all the states and urged the release of prisoners in select categories to mark the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ or the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence.
While the ministry excluded rape convicts and lifers from the offer, the Gujarat government said the 11 convicts’ release had been granted under the state’s 1992 remission policy.
Sujal Mayatra, the collector of Panchmahal and the head of the jail advisory committee that recommended the convicts’ release, said “the decision of remission was taken unanimously and the 11 convicts had applied for it three months ago”.
“They have served 14 years of imprisonment. Like in any other case, premature release and exemption were considered in this case too. This decision is taken on the basis of the behaviour and conduct of the prisoners. The recommendation for the remission of their sentence was sent to the state government and we got the order to release them Monday,” he added.
Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar told The Indian Express that the remission application was considered due to “completion of 14 years” and factors like “age, nature of offence, behaviour in jail, etc”.
Rasool said they were caught off-guard by the whole affair.
“We had no information about when they sent their applications and what factors were considered by the state government. We never got any kind of notice and were not even informed about it,” he added. “There was no way we could have known about this in advance.”
On his thoughts regarding the future, Rasool said, “Now we will consider what to do next.”
The entire nation, he added, was pained by the convicts’ release. “The whole country is saying today what happened to Bilkis was very wrong,” he told ThePrint.
(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)
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