Released to a hero’s welcome. That is what half of India will remember of the 11 convicts who walked out of Godhra sub-jail; on August 15. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, reportedly, was behind the organisation of the sweets and garlands for the convicts.
The other half is still reconciling to Bano’s plight. Gangraped when she was pregnant, saw seven of her kin butchered in front of her eyes. Fought all her life to live with dignity. And then, one Independence Day, without even the slightest whiff, the media channels inform her that the Gujarat government has released the guilty under a “remission policy.”
Still grappling to come to terms with the horror of her life, the unfair blow is what remains the only truth. And the fact that five members of the remission review panel were from the BJP.
“We felt that the convicts had already suffered enough and therefore they should be released prematurely,” said one of the members. He, however, refused to divulge any details of how many meetings were held and what aspects were considered while going ahead with the remission.
All 10 members of the jail advisory committee were government appointees. Five of them are office bearers in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Two of them are currently MLAs.
One among them is Godhra legislator Raolji. A seasoned politician, he defected to the ruling BJP in 2017 when Shankarsinh Vaghela split the Congress post the Rajya Sabha polls which saw the late Congress leader Ahmed Patel win for the fifth consecutive time.
A protege of Vaghela, Raolji, who served as a cabinet minister in the Vaghela government in the mid-1990s, was earlier in the BJP. Both guru and shishya walked out of the BJP in 1996 and joined the Congress.
However, Raolji maintains: “We followed the procedure and went by the rules.” The other BJP legislator on the committee was Sumanben Chauhan, a first-time MLA from Kalol in Godhra district. She is the daughter-in-law of former Godhra MP and former minister Prabhatsinh Chauhan, a prominent OBC leader from the district.
The other two members of the committee were a social worker and former Godhra municipal councillor from the BJP Murli Mulchandani and a worker with the BJP women’s wing Snehaben Bhatia.
In fact, Mulchandani was a key eyewitness in the Godhra train carnage case in which 59 pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive by a mob near the Godhra railway station in 2002. The episode triggered communal riots across the state.
His testimony in identifying the culprits of the train burning case had played a crucial role in convicting 31 accused, of which 11 were awarded the death sentence, which was later commuted to life imprisonment by the High Court.
Besides, the committee comprised the district social welfare officer, a sessions judge and the superintendent of jail. The collector and the district magistrate were chairpersons of the committee.