GODHRA: Convicts involved in gang rape and murder during the Gujarat pogrom in 2002 have been released after their application for remission of sentence was approved by the state government, Indian media reported.
The 11 men serving life imprisonment in Gujarat’s Godhra Town, particularly in relation to the Bilkis Bano gang rape case, were released on Monday.
A remission application was submitted by the 11 convicts following their completion of 14 years in jail, said a senior bureaucrat. In India, life sentences usually comprise of a 14-year jail term.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was ordered by India’s Supreme Court to conduct a federal investigation of the case in 2004.
The trial was then transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bilkis Bano —one of the Muslim women who was subjected to gang rape and saw her three-year-old daughter get killed by Hindu right-wingers — accused the men of sending her death threats.
In 2008, 13 accused in the case were convicted by a special Central Bureau of Investigation court, while 11 among these were punished with life imprisonment for gang rape and murder.
What happened during the Gujarat pogrom?
In 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire and claimed the lives of 59 passengers. Hindu right-wing groups exploited the incident and blamed local Muslims, igniting an anti-Muslim pogrom in te western state of India.
Retaliatory violence, spanning several days, caused havoc across the state, where nearly 2,000 people — mostly Muslims — faced worst brutality in the form of being slashed, shot, and even burned to death in Gujarat. Women, in hundreds, were subjected to rape, sexual harassment and assault in what has been deemed as the one of worst instances of human rights violations in India.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the-then chief minister of the state, was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence and retaliation Muslims had to endure. He did not do much to even stop the targeting of human rights defenders who fought for the victims of the violations.
Bilkis Bano, along with many other women, were among the victims of the large-scale anti-Muslim riots in India.
The 21-year-old Bano was five months pregnant when she was sexually assaulted by the men. She managed to save her life during the carnage by playing dead and eventually lost consciousness.
The eleven men convicted for the murder and sexual assault of women were from Bano’s neighbourhood, she later informed the prosecutors.
The All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), a women’s rights organization in India, released a statement deeming the decision to release Bano’s culprits as one that encourages men to threaten vulnerable minorities and instigate violence against women, all while allowing their followers to act on the threats.
“The conviction of communal killers and rapists is after all an aberration in India, not the rule. Does the remission intend to restore the rule of impunity for communal killers and rapists?” their statement read, demanding Indian PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to comment on the verdict.
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