Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister, the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, has strongly criticised the grand welcome given to the 11 men convicted for the rape of Bilkis Bano after their release from jail. The men were released on Independence Day by the Gujarat government under an old remission policy. Videos of their being welcomed with sweets and garlands by a right-wing group were widely circulated, triggering outrage.
“An accused is an accused and there can be no justification for their felicitation,” Devendra Fadnavis said today.
Replying to a discussion in the Maharashtra Legislative Council regrading an incident in Bhandara district, where a 35-year-old woman was sexually assaulted allegedly by three people, Mr Fadnavis said there was no reason to raise the Bilkis Bano issue in the House.
“The convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case of Gujarat were released following a Supreme Court Order. But it was wrong if a person accused of a crime is felicitated and there can be no justification for such an act,” Mr Fadnavis said.
The recommendation was based on the Gujarat government’s 1992 remission policy, which did not have restrictions on premature release of those convicted for rape or sentenced to life imprisonment, unlike the later policies in both the state and at the Centre.
The Union Home Ministry’s guidelines for a special remission policy, issued in June, said those sentenced to life imprisonment, and those convicted of rape should not be granted remission under the policy.
The decision on remission had been passed onto the state by the Supreme Court after one of the convicts had approached it, seeking remission.
The convicts were sentenced to life term in prison by a special court in Mumbai. The sentence was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
In March 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five months’ pregnant, was gang-raped in Gujarat’s Dahod as violence broke out across the state following the attack on Sabarmati Express in Godhra, in which 59 ‘kar sewaks’ were killed. Seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered.
Today, the Supreme Court agreed to consider listing a plea challenging the remission. Three petitions were filed in the matter — by the CPM Politburo Member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and one other.
The special court judge who convicted the men, meanwhile, told NDTV that the decision for remission should be reconsidered.
“The government has the power to give remission, but it should think about every factor before giving any decision, or else it isn’t right. I don’t know if they went through the procedure or not,” said Justice UD Salvi, who retired as a judge of the Bombay High Court.
“Did they ask the judge under whom the case was heard? I can tell you that I heard nothing regarding this… In such cases, the state government needs to take advice from the central government as well. Did they do that? I have no idea. If they did, what did the central government say?” he said.