Opinion: Freeing rapists sends wrong message to society

Article 21 of the Constitution has been overturned to ensure the right to be freed after raping and murdering women. As long as you belong to the majority religion or you are a Brahmin and are “sanskari”, which is what one MLA opined, you can walk off scot free after raping and murdering women from the minority community

Olav AlbuquerqueUpdated: Friday, August 26, 2022, 07:14 PM IST
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Justice Umesh Salvi of the Bombay High Court, who sentenced the 11 men to life in jail for raping a pregnant Bilkis Bano and murdering her family members, confirmed to The Free Press Journal that the Gujarat government did not consult him before freeing them. “It is correct to say I was not consulted. Only very few of those convicted were Brahmins. What does it matter ? No religion approves of evil. These men did not display signs of remorse. It is sad people are being brainwashed in the name of religion,” he told this newspaper.

Justice Abhay Thipsay who retired from the Allahabad High Court in 2017, four years after Justice Salvi retired from the Bombay High Court, told The Free Press Journal that the garlanding of these criminals “sends a wrong message to society”. He too was present at a press conference held in Mumbai to discuss the deifying of these 11 men who were the neighbours of Bilkis Bano.

She identified all her tormentors in her initial complaint to a constable who refused to identify them. The police tried to convince Bilkis Bano not to name the perpetrators. This was proved beyond doubt in the trial court, according to a piece written by the Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra in a national newspaper.

She has petitioned the Supreme Court against the freeing of these convicts, while three MLAs have petitioned President Droupadi Murmu to cancel the remission of their sentences. The 14 bodies of Bilkis Bano’s family members were allegedly buried with salt bags to hasten their decomposition to make it impossible for them to be identified. The complicity of the state in this heinous crime through the police is evident.

For those who came in late, the Bilkis Bano case was transferred to Mumbai from Gujarat because of threats to the lives of witnesses. It was Judge UD Salvi of the Mumbai sessions court who sentenced the culprits to life imprisonment in 2008 before he was elevated as a judge of the Bombay High Court in 2009.

The law prohibits the naming of a rape victim. But like the 2012 Delhi rape case which led to a more stringent law on rape, Bilkis Bano has emerged as a global symbol for women who fight against state oppression. By naming her, we are eulogising her. It is her tormentors like the government which freed these rapists which must be shamed.

Article 21 of the Constitution has been overturned to ensure the right to be freed after raping and murdering women. As long as you belong to the majority religion or you are a Brahmin and are “sanskari”, which is what one MLA opined, you can walk off scot free after raping and murdering women from the minority community.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday asked the Andhra government the rationale for freeing eight murder convicts who were serving life terms. The Andhra government freed them before these murderers completed the mandatory 14 years in jail and before being eligible for remission of their sentence. Citing the Supreme Court guidelines for remission of sentence, the court asked the government to file a detailed reply on Thursday.

There is no law to protect the rights of rape victims, or those murdered, robbed or burnt to death in mob violence, because their evidence is diluted by the police. After proving beyond reasonable doubt that 12 persons had hacked her husband to death in 1996, Mudi Navaneeramma from Nellore’s Mettu village had challenged the freeing of these murderers by the Andhra Pradesh government. The Andhra Pradesh governor’s remission of their life sentence before completing the mandatory 14 years in jail flouted the Supreme Court guidelines. Navaneetamma’s counsel, Gudapati Venkateswara Rao, sought a direction from the court to set aside the government order freeing these convicts. Perhaps his is wishful thinking. Those who have been convicted for murder or rape should not be freed from jail, because rape and murder is a crime against society. The government is the choice of the majority, and suppresses the voice of the minority which is subjected to brutality.

The remission of a convict’s sentence is an executive prerogative, making a mockery of justice and the courts. The Supreme Court as far back as 1976, State of Madhya Pradesh versus Ratan Singh, declared that pardon, remission and commutation of sentences are the exclusive jurisdiction of the government. But the Supreme Court also ensconced itself in a tower of silence when activist Teesta Setalvad was jailed by the Gujarat police. This is why Bilkis Bano epitomises how a theocratic government brainwashes its people to accept rape and murder.

Despite the government in 2014 listing rape and murder as crimes for which no remission is allowed, it may be that the Gujarat government has gone by its old 1992 policy to display its malevolence towards minorities. Section 435 of the Criminal Procedure Code declares that in cases investigated by central agencies like the CBI, the states have to consult the union government before granting remission. This implies that the Gujarat government had the tacit approval of the Union government to free the 11 rapists who were convicted by a CBI court.

Another judgment known as D Krishna Kumar versus State of Telangana declares that the opinion of the presiding judge of the trial court is mandatory. As Justice Salvi has confirmed he was never consulted, there is a good chance these 11 men may go back to jail if the Supreme Court says so.

Half of those who remitted the life sentences of these rapists-cum-murderers were linked to the BJP. Two were MLAs. The others who were the district collector, the superintendent of police and the jail superintendent report directly to the state government — which proves the Gujarat government wanted these 11 rapists freed. In the name of God.

The writer holds a PhD in law and is a senior journalist-cum-advocate at the Bombay High Court

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