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CBI should challenge release of 11 convicts, it probed Bilkis case: plea to CBI director

Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, Jadgeep Chhokar
Counterview Desk 
In a letter to Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), top political scientist Jadgeep Chhokar, former professor, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, and currently heading the well-known civil rights group Association for Democratic Reforms, has has sought CBI intervention in challenging the grant of remission of the 11 convicts of the Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder case.
Stating that the CBI had investigated the case, following which a special CBI court in Mumbai gave lifer to the 11 convicts, Chhokar said, CBI intervention is particularly important because the Gujarat government did not take its opinion before releasing the 11 persons.
“The CBI which diligently challenges bails, acquittals and remissions should not be seen to be hesitant or partisan in a case so heinous as the present one”, he insisted.

Text:

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of India, and I am writing about the release of 11 men on remission by the government of Gujarat on August 15, 2022. These men were convicted and jailed in the ghastly case of gang rape of the young and pregnant Bilkis Bano and two others and the murder of her family members in the riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002.
There should be no need to recount the case because I am sure you are familiar with it, but still, allow me to recall some essentials. Bilkis was 19 years old in February 2002 when around 60 Muslim homes were torched in her village in Dahod district on the 28th. Bilkis was five months pregnant at that time.
She, along with her family and others, fled the village and they hid in the fields outside Chhapparwad village. Here they were attacked by armed men who raped Bilkis, her mother and three other women and killed some of them including her three-year-old daughter who was smashed to the ground.
Eight of them were later found dead and six were missing. A three-year-old child and a naked and unconscious Bilkis survived. It was this battered and bruised young woman, hiding from her tormentors, who managed to seek justice from the courts.
The accused were powerful and politically connected and the Gujarat police had closed the case. It was on the initiative of the National Human Rights Commission that the Supreme Court ordered a fresh investigation by the CBI in 2004. Subsequently, the trial case was transferred from Gujarat to a special CBI court in Mumbai because of the death threats received by Bilkis Bano.
In the trial court the case was prosecuted by the CBI instead of by the Gujarat police. It was this CBI Special Court in Mumbai that sentenced 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family in January 2008. It was an unprecedented judgment wherein not only the rapists and murderers were punished, but also the policemen and doctors who tried to protect the criminals and cover up the crime.
Those convicted appealed to the High Court where their appeals were rejected in 2017. The Supreme Court also rejected the appeals in 2019, and ordered the Gujarat government to give Bilkis Bano Rs.50 lakhs as compensation, a job, and a house.
One of the convicts approached the Gujarat High Court with a plea for remission after serving 15 years in jail, during which period he had been granted parole at several occasions. The High Court dismissed his plea while observing that the "appropriate government" to decide the case was Maharashtra and not Gujarat.
He then approached the Supreme Court. Media reports indicate that there was suppression by the accused of the fact that the case pertained to the heinous crimes of the Bilkis matter.
Gujarat government has committed several errors in granting remission. An important error is, CBI was not involved in the decision
The Supreme Court passed an order on 13 May, 2022, saying that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine the application for remission, and that the decision on the application should be taken within two months.
The government of Gujarat set up an advisory committee to give recommendations on the application for remission. The committee consisted of 5 persons belonging to the BJP (two being MLAs and three being 'social workers' who were also members of the BJP) and 5 government officials (who would obviously not have been expected to go against the wishes of the government).
This committee, in its wisdom, recommended remission not only to the applicant but also to ten other persons who had been convicted of the same crime and sentenced along with the applicant. The Gujarat government accepted the recommendations of the committee and granted remission to all 11 persons.
It has been widely reported that the Gujarat government has committed several errors in granting remission to the 11 convicts. One of the most important errors appears to be that the CBI was not involved in the decision.
Since it was the CBI who not only investigated the case but also was the prosecution agency at all stages, the grant of remission completely negates all the meticulous hard work that the CBI staff did during investigation and the prosecution.
I, therefore, feel extremely strongly that it is the duty of the CBI to challenge the grant of remission, and in the manner that it was done. The CBI which diligently challenges bails, acquittals and remissions should not be seen to be hesitant or partisan in a case so heinous as the present one.
If the CBI does not challenge this order of remission, it will be a sad reflection on the sterling reputation that the CBI has earned in the public eye. Given the large social impact that this remission, if not challenged and reversed, is likely to have on larger public perception about CBI, I am taking the liberty of making this letter public. I hope you would not mind that.

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