Bilkis Bano’s 20-Year Wait, Delayed Justice Dash Faith in Judicial System

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Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Civil society, legal luminaries, women activists and several Muslim leaders have severely criticised the Supreme Court’s recent verdict rejecting Bilkis Bano’s plea seeking a review of its earlier order wherein it had asked the Gujarat government to consider the petitions for the remission of the sentences of 11 convicts in the gang-rape case.

The Supreme Court on Saturday rejected the review plea filed by Bano, the Gujarat riot victim who was raped by 11 men. Besides this, seven members of her family were also killed in communal violence that shook the country in 2002.

In India, the only way to seek justice is through the existing judicial system. However, it is this system that has made Muslims feel left out, betrayed and dejected time and again. As soon as the court delivered its order on Bano’s plea, Muslims of India again got a jolt.

Mirza Wardah Beg, a law graduate at Aligarh Muslim University, said, “Rapes are rapes. They are horrific crimes against humanity. The case is not just Bilkis Bano vs. the eleven convicts; it is Bilkis vs. the State machinery, the same machinery that has mercilessly ignored her pleas, and granted these criminals a premature release on sham grounds.”

She said, “Our very honourable Chief Justice of India, the person applauded and cheered for being a champion of liberal secularist ideals, the torch-bearer of judicial reform, has not only failed to bring justice but has insulted Bilkis by calling her pleas “irritating”.

The order also raised a question on the credibility of the Supreme Court which even after 20 years of the incident is not able to deliver justice to a Muslim woman.

Aasif Mujtaba, a social worker and a Muslim activist, said: “The Supreme Court has not only crushed the plea filed by Bano but also crushed the aspirations of the Muslim community of this country”.

He said, “The last leftover shred of credibility over the Supreme Court of the country is in question and the institution should be worried about its position since we all look at it as the last bastion of justice”.

“Students leaders who fought against the unjust act are rotting in jails for years but the rapists and murderers are roaming free,”, he added.

“No one should be surprised to know that orders that aim to crush aspirations of Indian Muslims only show how an apex institution such as the Supreme Court is working as a mouthpiece to further the farcical agenda of the state,” he further said.

Nidha Parveen J A, President of TISS Students’ Union said the criminal justice system in India is day-to-day declaring that our “existence is extraneous.”

She said, “Supreme Court’s dismissal of Bilkis Bano’s review plea and the court’s ‘irritation’ in hearing the case put us into a more vulnerable position of harassment from both the Hindutva goons and the justice system”.

“We have experienced and realised that no protection from the state is guaranteed to Muslims in India. Law and order instead further oppress us on our way to seek justice,” she stressed.

Swati Maliwal, chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, took it to Twitter and asked: “When people do not get justice from the Supreme Court, where do they go”.

Some people view the order as a complex situation where Muslims and minorities in India find themselves.

A Twitter user, Harun Khan who identifies himself as a political commentator on Twitter wrote, “It is not just a setback for Bilkis Bano but every woman in the country who seeks justice today. Do we think with the judgements like these women will have the courage to come forward and speak out? 10 years since Nirbhaya, the conviction rate for crimes against women in India is just 26 per cent”.

Bilkis Bano, a gangrape victim and survivor of the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom moved a plea in the top court asking it to review its May 2022 order that directed the Gujarat government to consider the convicts’ release plea, after which 11 convicts serving life sentence walked out of jail on August 15 this year on the grounds of ‘good behaviour’.

In the review petition, Bano argued that the Maharashtra remission policy should be applied in the case, instead of the 1992 Gujarat remission policy since the trial was conducted in Maharashtra.

Rejecting the plea, the Supreme Court said the 1992 policy of Gujarat to grant premature release to the convicts existed at the time of conviction.

A two-judge bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath dismissed Bilki Bano’s petition filed by advocate Shobha Gupta.

“I am directed to inform you that the review petition above mentioned filed in the Supreme Court was dismissed by the court on December 13, 2022,” reads the SC order sent to Adv Shobha Gupta, Bano’s counsel, by the apex court’s assistant registrar.

Since the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has used the ‘policy’ decision to defend its leaders and members who are often seen indulging in heinous crimes.

Some BJP members were also on the panel that recommended the release of the 11 convicts which was approved by the Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, who recently boasted that “we taught rioters a lesson,” referring to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat then ruled by now Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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