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‘Are These Sanskari Men?’: Shabana Azmi on Released Convicts in Bilkis Bano Case

Protests condemning the government's move to release the 11 convicts were held in Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai.

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Several rights groups on Saturday, 27 August, organised protests across the country against the remission of life sentences given to 11 convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang-rape case.

The protests took place at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, Bengaluru’s Freedom Park, and Mumbai, all of them condemned the Gujarat government's decision and demanded that the convicts' life sentences be reinstated.

The 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano case had walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on Monday, 15 August, after the Gujarat government approved their release under its remission policy. The convicts were later garlanded by groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Large crowds at Jantar Mantar on Saturday condemned the convicts’ release as well as the welcome that they were given after walking free.

Acclaimed Indian actress Shabana Azmi was present at Jantar Mantar and teared up while delivering an emotional speech condemning the convicts’ release.

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Azmi said, "Ulti aati hai mujhe. Yeh sanskari log hai? (I want to vomit. Are these cultured men?)"

"And someone from the ruling dispensation is making this remark!" the actress added.

Over 500 Protesters at Bengaluru's Freedom Park

Meanwhile, over 500 students and human rights activists held a protest against the 11 convicts and raised slogans in Bengaluru's Freedom Park.

The protesters also demanded the immediate withdrawal of remission of the life sentences and condemned the ruling Bhratiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat for targeting minorities.

Vinay Sreenivasa, an advocate and activist based in Bengaluru, said that the remission was completely unconstitutional and the convicts didn't deserve remission for the heinous crime that they committed.

Moreover, a memorandum carrying the signatures of 200 people against the remission will be submitted to the Karnataka governor.

NCP Women Activists Protest in Mumbai

Women activists of the Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP) Thane-Palghar unit also held a protest against the convicts' release.

The protest was held at Shivaji Square in Mumbai and participants indulged in sloganeering against the BJP governments at the Centre and in Gujarat.

Thane-Palghar NCP Mahila president Ruta Awhad said:

"The release of these convicts comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, speaks about empowering and respecting women."

A protest is also set to take place at Mumbai’s Carter Road Promanade at 5 pm on Sunday, 28 August.

'Rectify Horrendous Decision': Over 130 Civil Servants Write to CJI

More than 130 former civil servants on Saturday wrote an open letter to the chief justice of India against the premature release of the 11 men and requested him to rectify this "horrendously wrong decision."

They asked the CJI to rescind the order of remission passed by the Gujarat government and send the 11 persons convicted of gang rape and murder back to jail to serve out their life sentences.

"Like the overwhelming majority of people in our country, we are aghast at what happened in Gujarat a few days ago, on the 75th anniversary of India's Independence,” it said.

Former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung, former Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, former Foreign Secretaries Shivshankar Menon and Sujatha Singh, and former Home Secretary GK Pillai were among the 134 signatories of the letter, written under the aegis of the Constitutional Conduct Group.

What Is the Bilkis Bano Case?

The convicted men had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Mumbai court in 2008 for gang-raping Bano and killing seven members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

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The sentence was also upheld by the Bombay High Court.

After serving 15 years of his sentence, a convict, Radheshyam Shah approached the Supreme Court seeking remission of the sentence and his premature release.

The court then passed on the matter to the Gujarat government, which decided to release them under an outdated remission policy.

The government had taken advice from an advisory committee that was replete with links to the BJP and unanimously recommended the remission of the convicts' sentences.

The 10-member committee comprised two current BJP legislators and three other members of the saffron party.

The convicts were felicitated upon their release from the Godhra sub-jail, with locals touching their feet, offering them sweets, and applying tilak on their foreheads.

In her first statement after their release, Bano had 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?"

She further 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."

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Topics:  Protests   Bilkis Bano   Remission 

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