On August 15 when India was celebrating its Independence Day, doubly special because it drew curtains on the year-long Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape case sprung up. This time to “free the convicts” lodged at the Godhra sub-jail under s special remission.
The Gujarat government’s decision to release 11 convicts serving time for the rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 riots in the state, flies in the face of the Union Home ministry’s explicit directive that “special remission is NOT to be granted” to those facing a “sentence of life imprisonment” and “rape.” The 11 are also guilty of having murdered seven of her family members.
While eight different categories of convicts qualify for remission, “special remission is NOT to be granted” to a longer list of 12 categories of convicts.
The 11, serving life-term for raping the then 21-year-old and five-months pregnant Bilkis Bano before murdering her entire family, were allowed to walk free from the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after a state government committee approved their application for remission of the sentence.
A Home ministry notification issued on June 10, 2022, stated: “As part of the celebrations (Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav), it is proposed to give special remission to certain categories of prisoners and release them in three phases –August 15, 2022, January 26, 2023 and again on August 15, 2023.” While eight different categories of convicts qualify for remission, “special remission is NOT to be granted” to a longer list of 12 categories of convicts.
The NO-GO list includes death row convicts or cases where death has been commuted to life, those sentenced for life, convicts serving time for acts of terror, dowry death, counterfeiting currency, rape, human trafficking, sexually abusing children, money laundering and corruption among others.
The judiciary stands divided with some stating that the remission is in line with the law of the land. Some however, explain that “this power (of remission) must be exercised consistently. What we have today is a situation where there is no consistency in its application, leaving a large majority of convicts to suffer very long periods of incarceration while a select few get away with shorter periods.”
Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar said the remission application was considered as the convicts had completed 14 years in jail, besides other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, behaviour in prison and so on.”