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The Daily Fix: Bilkis Bano verdict is a reminder of state complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots

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The Big Story: A rare case

One of the many horrors that came into public view after the Gujarat riots of 2002 was the Bilkis Bano case. On March 3, 2002, 19-year-old Bano and her family had been trying to flee the riots in a truck. They were set upon by a mob of men who gangraped Bano, pregnant at the time, killed her three-year-old daughter and 14 others in her family. Fifteen years later, those responsible for the brutalities have been dealt with by the Bombay High Court, which upheld 12 life sentences in the case. “Somewhere, somehow, justice can prevail,” Bano said in a statement on Thursday, even in times “when the secular values of our country” are in peril.

Attention has been centred on the life sentences, and the fact that the court dismissed the Central Bureau of Investigation’s plea to convert three of these into death penalties. But the court also made another significant decision. It overturned the acquittals, handed down by a Mumbai sessions court, to five members of the Gujarat police. The court found them guilty of carrying out a “dishonest investigation”, of various “acts of omission and commission”, by which they tried to “screen the perpetrators of the crime” and “gagged the mouth of the prosecutrix”.

When Bano filed a first information report on March 4, 2002, she had named her rapists, but these names were left out of the complaint. She and her family were also harassed by the Gujarat crime investigation department. In 2003, the Supreme Court shifted the case out of the state and into Maharashtra, stopped the investigation by the state crime branch and directed the CBI to take it up.

The Bombay High Court’s verdict now is yet another reminder of chilling state complicity in the violence of 2002. Survivor accounts depict a state police that was indifferent at best or guilty of deliberate inaction, standing by and allowing the violence to take its course. The complicity carried on into the afterlife of the horrors, as evidence was destroyed or suppressed, cases were closed, voices of dissent within the force were silenced. How high up did the lines of accountability reach? Were the police were acting under political pressure? These questions have now passed into the realm of speculation. The Supreme Court’s decision to move the trials out of the state was acknowledgment that the system was tainted. But the Bombay High Court’s verdict holds specific members of the force accountable. It is a rare case.

The Big Scroll

Shoaib Daniyal explains how the stark difference in the Godhra and the Gulberg Society massacre convictions emphasise why the death penalty should be abolished.

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Punditry

  1. In the Indian Express, Janmejaya Sinha suggests six ways to reform the banking sector, currently grappling with the problem of non-performing assets.
  2. In the Hindu, Ashutosh Kumar, Suhas Palshikar and Anjali Bhardwaj weigh the question of whether the Aam Aadmi Party’s promise of an alternative politics is over.
  3. In the Hindustan Times, DK Singh argues that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “wall of valour” to bring patriotism on campus may be a good idea, but his time would be better spent focusing on problems in education.

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