Retired Justice UD Salvi, who had sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment In 2008 for the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the Gujarat riots in 2002, said on Thursday, 18 August, that “the one who suffers knows it better.”
The 11 convicts were released from Godhra sub-jail on Monday, 15 August, after a Gujarat government panel approved their sentence remission application.
Justice Salvi, then special judge in the Mumbai City Civil and Sessions Court, had called Bilkis’ deposition “courageous” while convicting the men during the trial.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Justice Salvi said, “I would only want to say that there are guidelines (on the aspect of grant of remission), the state itself lays down these guidelines. There are Supreme Court judgments on this too.”
'Judgment Sets a Very Bad Precedent': Justice Salvi
“The judgment was delivered a long time ago. Now it is in the hands of the government. The state has to make a decision. Whether it is correct or not is for the court concerned or a superior court to see,” Justice Salvi said.
He also said that the decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts has set a "very bad precedent."
"A very bad precedent has been set. This is wrong, I would say. Now, convicts in other gang rape cases would seek similar reliefs," Justice Salvi was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.
He also remarked that it was ironic that the Gujarat government issued such an order at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was urging Indians to respect women more.
"Certainly, this is an irony. Our PM spoke of women empowerment, and the state from where he comes, released these men, who gang raped a helpless woman," the former Bombay High Court judge added.
Salvi added that the purpose of punishing someone was to ensure that a convict realises that he has done something wrong, but in this case there was no clarity regarding whether the accused were remorseful of their deeds.
"Punishment is given to ensure that it dawns upon the accused that he has done something wrong. The accused must be remorseful and express repentance. There isn't any clarity if these men have expressed such remorse or repentance in the present case. Have they expressed that they feel sorry and have realised their guilt?" he asked.
He further expressed displeasure at the "grand welcome" the accused received upon their release. "This is bad in taste. I don't know why people are welcoming them like this. I believe the people felicitating these convicts have political objectives and agenda. This shouldn't happen at all."
‘How Can Justice End Like This?’: Bilkis Bano
In her first statement after the release of the 11 men, including those convicted of gang raping her and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano on Wednesday, 17 August, said, "I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this?"
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."
Stating that the move has taken away her faith from India's justice system, she said, "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."
She further said, "My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts."
"No one enquired 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," she added.
(With inputs from The Indian Express and Bar and Bench.)