Executive Director, C Voter Foundation
After a long gap, Indian “liberals” have stated praising the Supreme Court of India once again. Till recently, the same liberals were of the opinion that the Supreme Court was bowing down to the “authoritarian” regime of Narendra Modi. That was particularly because the Supreme Court has delivered verdicts on Article 370 and the Adani controversy that were not to the liking of the liberals. But for them, it seems the top court has redeemed itself by delivering the Bilkis Bano verdict. For a majority of ordinary Indians, this has been further proof that the Supreme Court, almost on all occasions, has behaved and acted independently without succumbing to the pressures of either the regime or a liberal ecosystem that seems to have miraculous access to the top court when it comes to filing petitions on their favourite causes.
The Supreme Court has basically delivered a verdict that will ensure the 11 convicted criminals who were released through remission on August 15, 2022 will have to go back to jail. The judgement has many remarkable points. One is that both the convicts and the state government of Gujarat misled the top court in 2022 in a manner designed to ensure the convicted criminals are released. The brief background of the ugly episode goes like this. After a mob of Islamists burnt down a train bogey in Godhra killing 59 pilgrims, including women and children, the entire state of Gujarat erupted in riots. Narendra Modi has taken over as chief minister just a few months ago. The debate over what happened in Gujarat in 2002 continues to rage. The liberals continue to insist that the riots were a genocide of Muslims as they were systematically raped and killed by Hindu mobs even as the police turned a blind eye. Some of the more extreme liberals have labelled Modi a mass murderer since then. There are others who say this branding is nonsense. According to them, Modi did everything possible to quell the violence. They say it is a fact that out of the 1,000 odd officially killed in the riots, close to 300 were killed, mostly because of police firing to control the mobs. How you view the 2002 Gujarat riots depends on your ideological view.
But there is one point on which everyone agrees. What Bilkis Bano went through during the riots was cruel, inhuman and barbaric. Bilkis Bano and her family were fleeing for safety when a Hindu mob fell upon them. The family members of Bilkis Bano were slaughtered, including a young daughter of Bano. The mob then gang raped her and left her to die. She struggled to get justice as local cops and officials sought to destroy the case. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the trial was shifted to Maharashtra to ensure justice. A trial court in Maharashtra examined all the witnesses and evidence and found 13 males guilty. Eleven of them were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. They appealed in the High Court which upheld the original verdict and confirmed the life sentence. During the 14 years they spent in jail in Gujarat, many obtained parole of various durations. But they were largely forgotten as society believed justice had been delivered to the hapless Bilkis Bano.
When most thought the chapter was closed, it erupted again when the convicts sought remission. In May 2022, the Supreme Court upheld the long followed precedent that allows state governments to give remission to convicts if they were deemed worthy. There were many who argued in 2022 that since the criminals were convicted in Maharashtra, the decision to give remission to the convicts needed to be taken by courts and the state government of Maharashtra. Yet, the Gujarat government released the 11 convicts who were then welcomed by their “supporters” with garlands as if they were heroes rather than brutal and savage criminals. Almost the whole of India was of the opinion that grave injustice had been done yet again to Bilkis Bano. Mercifully, the latest Supreme Court verdict has again balanced the scales of justice. But there is a catch. The state government of Maharashtra still has the power to give remission all over again to the convicts. So, it is not as if the whole chapter has been entirely closed.
The author has no doubt whatsoever that the convicts should never have been released. And should not be released again. But then, as per law, state governments do have discretionary power. Besides, the liberal ecosystem is more driven by hatred for Narendra Modi than justice. Look at another case. In May 1991, LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi brutally via a suicide bomber. Close to 20 other people were also killed. Many conspirators were caught, tried and given lengthy sentences. But many Tamil “activists” kept agitating for their remission. Eventually, the argument given was that since Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi had “forgiven” the killers, they should be elevated. Some were released and felicitated by the chief minister of Tamil Nadu M. K. Stalin. Nobody listened to family members of the others killed who vehemently opposed the release.
But then, that’s the way the Indian system works. Usually unjust and politically motivated.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.