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Indian rights activists decry release of perpetrators of 2002 rape, killings of Muslims

“It is a shame for democracy and an insult to women,” said Dev Desai of the non-government organization ANHAD

India’s rights activists and various civil society organizations denounced the release of 11 men who were earlier convicted of raping a pregnant Muslim woman and killing 14 others during the 2002 riots in India’s western state of Gujarat.

“The remission is highly unjust, unfair and immoral in a sense given the gravity of the offense,” said retired Justice Deepak Gupta, who was part of the Supreme Court bench that granted compensation to the victims.

“The saddest part is the justification of release by the legislator,” he said, adding that it is “very unfortunate” that the remission is on the basis of religion and caste.



“It is a shame for democracy and insult to women,” said Dev Desai of the non-government organization ANHAD after learning of the news.

ANHAD was established as a response to the riots and aims to work toward communal harmony, human rights, and secularism.

Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the Indian Currents weekly, said the dispensation of justice is getting more and more communalized in the country, especially in BJP-ruled states.

The All India Working Women Forum of All India Trade Union Congress described the decision to release the convicts as “an affront against the doctrine of justice and a slur on the constitutional commitment to protect women.”

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The All India Progressive Women’s Association also questioned the Gujarat Government’s decision.

“As concerned citizens of the country we demand that this injustice be undone,” said the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

“This is an irony. Our prime minister spoke about women empowerment and respecting them and the state (Gujarat) from where he comes released these men who gang-raped a helpless woman,” said former Bombay high court judge U D Salvi.

More than 6,000 activists, historians, and citizens issued a statement urging the Supreme Court to revoke the early release of the convicts, describing it as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

“It shames us that on the day we should celebrate our freedoms and be proud of our Independence, the women of India instead saw gang-rapists and mass murderers freed as an act of State largesse,” they said.

An activist holds a placard during a protest against the release, following a recommendation by a Gujarat’s state government panel, of men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, in New Delhi on August 18, 2022. (Photo by Money Sharma / AFP)

Bilkis Bano ‘bereft of words’

Bilkis Bano, the Muslim woman who was gang-raped, has said she is “numb” after her attackers were released.

In a case that drew global outrage, Bilkis and two of her children were the only survivors among a group of 17 Muslims attacked by a Hindu mob in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

Bilkis was pregnant at the time and seven of those killed were relatives including her three-year-old daughter. The attack took place when current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Gujarat state premier.

Eleven Hindu men were later sentenced to life in prison but were freed last week, with the Gujarat government timing its announcement to coincide with celebrations for the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.

The attackers, released following a recommendation by a state government panel, were greeted by relatives outside the prison who gave them sweets and touched their feet in a traditional Indian sign of respect.

Bilkis said in a statement released by her lawyer on Wednesday that she was “bereft of words. I am still numb.”

“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. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” she said.

On Thursday around a dozen people staged a demonstration in New Delhi against the release of the men.

Opposition politician Rahul Gandhi, grandson of former premier Indira Gandhi, tweeted: “Prime Minister… the entire country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds.”

Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to the riots but was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012, two years before becoming leader of the Hindu-majority nation that is home to 200 million Muslims.

“BJP’s bias for a religion is such that even brutal rape & hate crimes are forgivable,” prominent Muslim politician Asaduddin Owaisi said, referring to Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Gujarat state government, run by the BJP, defended the decision to release the men.

“The remission of the 11 convicts was considered after taking various factors like life imprisonment term in India which is typically of 14 years or more, age, behavior of the person and so on,” senior official Raj Kumar was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying.

According to the official toll, around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were hacked, beaten, shot or burnt to death in the riots, which erupted after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire that was blamed on a Muslim mob.

More than three dozen Muslims were later convicted over the fire, although the cause remains disputed. – with a report from AFP

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