Over 420 citizens from Meghalaya on Tuesday urged President Droupadi Murmu to rescind the Gujarat government’s decision to release all 11 men convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case.
As India celebrated its 75th Independence anniversary on August 15, the men walked out of the gates of a prison in Godhra to the cheers of their supporters after the state government approved their application under its remission policy.
The men had gangraped Bano in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed on the ground by the perpetrators.
In a statement, the Meghalaya citizens and others said that the Gujarat government’s move to release the convicts “will have a chilling effect on every rape victim who is told to trust the system, seek justice and have faith”.
They said the decision to even consider the convict’s plea for remission and then later free them shows the hollowness of the Modi government’s schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Mission Shakti.
The signatories pointed out that hours before the convicts were released, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech had spoken about the need to respect women.
“The PM’s speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort surpassed all other crescendos rising to an especially tear jerking emotional octave in talking about women’s rights, women’s dignity and nari shakti,” the statement said.
It added: “At the same time in an unbelievable contrast to this commitment to gender justice, the state of Gujarat executed the most horrendous and unconscionable action by the premature release of 11 gang rapists and mass murderers convicted in the Bilkis Bano case.”
The signatories also categorically criticised that these “heinous criminals” were celebrated by relatives and neighbours with garlands, tilaks and sweets outside the prison.
“We strongly call upon you to undo this socially destructive, legally untenable and morally demeaning miscarriage and travesty of justice,” they told the president.
Last week, over 6,000 citizens, including human rights activists, had also urged the Supreme Court to revoke the early release of the 11 convicts.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it would look into a plea challenging their release.
In a statement on August 17, Bano had urged the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the right to live without fear and in peace.
“How can justice for any woman end like this?” she had asked. “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.”
Retired judge Justice UD Salvi, who had sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment in 2008, senior advocate Rebecca John and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom have also criticised the Gujarat government’s decision.