bilkis bano case convicts

Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier A.G. Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect. Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco. However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and cried. Nalini has described Priyanka as an angel and prayed for her well being. Quite obviously there is no acrimony between the convicts and victims, the Gandhi family. There have been few instances in recent history where family of murdered have pardoned the criminals. Galdys Staines pardoned the murderers of her husband Graham and two sons in Odisha and Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, pardoned the killers of her son in South Africa. It requires elevation of human consciousness to a high moral level to be able to take such a stand. It goes against the common feeling of revenge among the victims of any grave crime or their well wishers. Even though the Congress Party has expressed its opposition to the Supreme Court decision, it must be commended that Gandhi family has expressed no regret. In times when hate has become a prominent element in politics of religious nationalism in the country it comes as a fresh welcome relief that Gandhi family has demonstrated a large heart and has chosen to silently pardon the people involved in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

A few months back eleven convicts, in the case of gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her 14 family members including a child in womb and another three years old daughter, were released by a Home Ministry order based on the recommendation of a Gujarat government committee which had on it two Bhartiya Janata Party Members of Legislative Assembly.

Whereas the decision in the case of Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts was taken by judiciary, the decision to release convicts in Bilkis Bano case was a political one by the BJP government with the intention of taking advantage in the upcoming Gujarat elections.

Whereas the convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case had spent 31 years in jail, the convicts in Bilkis Bano case had spent only 14 years and each of them had been out on parole and furlough for more than roughly thousand days during this period.

Whereas decision of SC was backed by popular sentiment of Tamil people, even though of a sub-nationalism variety, the decision to release Convicts in Bilkis Bano case is supported only by the hardcore BJP-RSS cadre, common people are taken aback by it.

Whereas the victims of Rajiv Gandhi assassination are not threatened by the convicts, in fact, on the other hand have pardoned the assassins, the convicts in Bilkis Bano case actively threaten the witnesses and she has to live in hiding fearing for her security.

This is an important distinction between the two cases. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts have been released more or less with the concurrence of his family members whereas this is clearly not the case with Bilkis Bano matter convicts.

In a civilized society there should be no capital punishment and there should be an attempt to reform the convicts or rather help the convicts reform themselves. If possible there should be reconciliation between the convicts and the victims or their family members. The most famous example of this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when Nelson Mandela took charge in South Africa which popularized the concept of restorative justice in which perpetrators were allowed to seek amnesty after the victims narrated their harrowing experiences.

From this point of view, even though the perpetrators of crime in Rajiv Gandhi case have not sought apology but they have been pardoned by the Gandhi family and there is no rancor between them and there is no opposition to their release except for a meek one by the Congress Party, this is a ideal case for remission. On the other hand the release of Bilkis Bano case convicts has been vehemently opposed nation wide and has left the victims speechless and vulnerable. The perpetrators in this case not only don’t feel any remorse for the crime they committed but were feted with garlands and sweets when they came out of Godhra sub-jail. Criminals are being celebrated as heroes. One of the MLAs on the committee which took the decision to release the convicts, C.K. Raulji, who justified the decision by claiming that some of the convicts are virtuous Brahmins, is going to contest the upcoming Gujarat elections whereas senior BJP politicians like Vijay Rupani, Nitin Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama have been made to withdraw from the contest. BJP is also fielding the young daughter of a convict Manoj Kulkarni in Naroda Patiya case as a candidate from Naroda. It appears that if there was no legal restriction BJP may not have had any qualms in fielding the arsonists, rapists and murderers of 2002 communal violence directly in the elections. The message being sent out is ominous. What kind of society do we wish to create where victims and their family would be forced to live with the perpetrators of crimes against them? Hence the release of convicts in Bilkis Bano case is a bad example of remission of sentence which must be undone.

And while the issue of remission of convicts is being debated we also need to ask why under-trials and accused without trial for a long time are in jail? When Bombay High Court recently released Sanjay Raut it commented that Enforcement Directorate had arrested him for no reason. Similarly a number of activists, journalists, lawyers, professors and students are in jail simply because they subscribe to ideologies which are critical of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and BJP. The Supreme Court needs to intervene and ensure that people are not put in jail in fabricated cases or on ambiguous and flimsy charges

Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary of Socialist Party (India). E-mail: ashaashram@yahoo.com


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