“We want our right to live without fear and in dignity,” is all that Bilkis Bano’s husband, Yakub Rasul says. On August 15, all 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the post-Godhra gangrape and murder of seven of Bilkis Bano’s family members, walked out free under a remission policy. Her lawyer Shobha Gupta, Wednesday, issued a statement on Bano’s behalf saying the “latest development has shaken my faith in justice.”
Bano also urged the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace.” The statement was also tweeted by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah.
The family, her husband stated, was not informed about the release. “We had no idea, we got to know about it from the local media,” he said. Asked if they are concerned about their safety now that the rapists are out, and whether they will move from their current home, Rasul said: “We are numbed. We do not know what to say or do.”
“The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” Bano said in the statement.
“I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma,” she added.
“No one asked about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision. I appeal to the Gujarat Government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” said Bano, who was five months pregnant at that time when she was gangraped and seven members of her family were killed.
The convicts were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008. Their counsel has rejected claims of contravention of the Centre’s guidelines in the matter.
The government’s assertion, enunciated by the senior home department official, came in the wake of Opposition claims that the remission for the convicts was a violation of the Centre’s guidelines.
In June this year, the Centre had issued special guidelines to states for the release of convicted prisoners as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) celebrations. As per the policy, rape convicts were not entitled for premature release from jail. However, according to Gujarat additional chief secretary, home, Raj Kumar, the Supreme Court had asked the government to consider early release of these 11 convicts under the state’s remission policy which was in effect when they were pronounced guilty in the case by the trial court.
A special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the state formed a committee.
The communal riots had erupted after the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 passengers, mostly ‘kar sevaks’, were killed on February 27, 2002.