(This story was first published on 22 August 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives in light of the Gujarat government's statement in the Supreme Court that the Centre had cleared the release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case even as the CBI and a special judge had opposed it.)
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The Gujarat government's decision to release 11 men convicted for the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano, and the murder of 13 members of her family, is nothing but "abuse and misuse" of the executive power, said prominent lawyer Vrinda Grover, adding that the order has let down the women of India – especially Muslim women.
In an interview with The Quint, Grover, who has worked with survivors and victims of sexual abuse, said that with this order, the government has sent out a message that the State will not stand up for crimes committed against Muslim women.
She added that the rape against Bano can be considered independent India's "most heinous of crimes."
"The messaging is if the targets are Muslim women... Of sexual abuse, of sexual harassment, of sexual assault, gang-rape, then there is impunity for the crime and the State will not stand up for them."Vrinda Grover to The Quint
"Have you heard a single statement from the present dispensation condemning the manner in which those who were convicted were welcomed? This is a government that speaks more than necessary on social media. Where are the usual suspects wanting death penalty for every reason?" Grover added.
'In Favor Of Reformatory Approach, But This Is Discriminatory'
Elaborating how the argument here is not the remission process itself, but to whom this relief has been granted, and the timing of it, Grover explained that the outcry is coming from discrimination.
Stressing on how she is absolutely against death sentence, or longer and harsh punishments, Grover said:
I speak for activists and personally as well, that we are in favour of reformatory approach. We are against death sentence – even in cases of rape. I have repeatedly said no to long and harsh incarceration, and yet if there is a process remission, if the state does not appear to be working in an equal manner – it is discriminatory in approach.
So, What Does The Policy Say?
Grover stated that as per Section 435 CrPC, the power of remission awarded to the state government, in a case investigated by the CBI (agency empowered to make investigation into an offence under any Central Act), shall not be exercised by the state government except in consultation with the central government.
After serving 14 years, a convict has the right to submit application. It is only an eligibility, and not the right, Grover said, explaining the 1992 policy.
"The policy asks one to consider the application. But the 1992 order does not say that march the convicts out and garland them. So let us be very clear, the Union Home Ministry is in agreement with the state of Gujarat," she added.
Given that the Bilkis Bano case was in fact investigated by the CBI, "the central government has endorsed, approved, affirmed this remission," Grover said.
'Onus Should Not Be Put on Bilkis'
In a statement released by her lawyer, Bano said, "Two days ago, on August 15, 2022 the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again. When I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my 3-year-old daughter, had walked free."
"I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice."
When asked what next for Bano in the case, Grover said, that we should first stop putting the onus on the survivor.
I don't think we can all comprehend what she and her family have gone through. I salute her courage and tenacity. I think the system should stop putting the burden on her. This is not her burden. It is the State's responsibility to get this done. I don't think anyone can ask her to take this forward. This is not her responsibilty. What is the state of Gujarat doing? What is the Centre doing," Grover questioned.