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India frees 11 men convicted of gang-raping pregnant Muslim woman
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 08 - 2022

Eleven men serving life imprisonment for gang rape and murders during the 2002 Gujarat riots have been freed, drawing condemnation from the victim's widower, lawyers and politicians.
The 11 convicts in what came to be known as the Bilkis Bano case were freed on Monday from jail in Gujarat's Godhra town after the state government approved their application for remission of sentence, according to Indian media reports.
The men were convicted in early 2008 and released from jail in Panchmahals in the western state of Gujarat on Monday, when India celebrated 75 years since the end of British rule.
The Gujarat violence, one of India's worst religious riots, led to the deaths of nearly 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. Gujarat was then led by current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as chief minister, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party still rules it.
The anti-Muslim pogrom happened in 2002 after a train carrying many Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 59 people. Right-wing Hindu groups blamed local Muslims for the incident.
Panchmahals' top bureaucrat told Reuters news agency that the district jail advisory committee had recommended the release after considering the time the 11 had spent in jail and their good behavior.
"The fact is they had spent close to 15 years in jail and were eligible for remission," Sujal Jayantibhai Mayatra said.
Indian laws allow convicts to seek remission after 14 years in jail, officials said.
Media footage showed a man feeding the convicts sweetmeat outside the jail after touching the feet of one of them, a mark of respect.
The victim's husband told Reuters they were disappointed because the riots had also killed many family members.
"We have lost our family and want to live in peace, but suddenly this has happened," Yakub Rasul said. "We had no prior information about their release, either from the courts or the government. We only learned about it from the media."
Opposition politicians and lawyers said the release contradicted the government's stated policy of uplifting women in a country notorious for violence against them.
"The remission of the sentence of convicts of a gruesome crime like gang-rape and murder is morally and ethically improper," said senior lawyer Anand Yagnik. "What is the signal we are trying to send?"
Commenting on the release of the 11 convicts, New Delhi-based lawyer Mehmood Pracha told Al Jazeera it is "one more proof of the convicts' involvement with the political leadership of ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)".
"They were involved in Gujarat carnage against the Muslim community. And now they (government) are living up to their promises which they had made to the criminals, culprits, and their cadres in the (Gujrat riots) case) that they will protect them from all legal prosecution and that's what they are doing till date," he said.
"This is a message to all seeking justice that you have to have good legal support. Unless you have a good legal team and you are determined to fight for your rights, getting justice, especially under the current regime is becoming more and more difficult."
In a statement, the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) slammed the Gujarat government's decision. It said the decision to free Bano's rapists emboldens such men and their followers to act on their threats.
"The conviction of communal killers and rapists is after all an aberration in India, not the rule. Does the remission intend to restore the rule of impunity for communal killers and rapists?" said the statement.
"Will Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah care to comment on this decision? Are we really to believe that this decision was taken without the blessing of these two topmost leaders of the BJP?" it asked.
In its statement, AIPWA said the decision to free the 11 convicts came on the day India was celebrating 75 years of independence from British rule.
"#IndiaAt75 became a day of shame for India's women because the ruling BJP chose to make it a day to free Bilkis's rapists," said the statement. "Today, it has become commonplace for Hindu supremacists to openly give calls for genocide and rape of Muslims – without any consequences." — Agencies

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