New Delhi, Aug 24 (KMS): After the convicts of the Bilkis Bano rape case were released, a wave of fear has spread in Gujarat’s Dahod area where Muslims have started to flee their homes.
About 50-70 Muslim families have vaccated their homes.
Bilkis Bano’s uncle Ayub told media that “villagers are leaving their homes as they’re afraid of losing their lives and the lives of their loved ones”.
Ayub said that people who work in the village come to the village at day and leave by the night.
“Some people celebrated the release of the convicts, they played music on loudspeakers and burst firecrackers to welcome them,” Ayub said.
“We are all afraid. What if someone comes to kill us?,” he said.
Razzaq, another local in the village said that the Muslims in the village including his family were threatened by right wing groups, after which they left the village.
“We’re afraid of living here, what if something happens to us?,” Razzaq said.
Shahrukh Sheikh of Randhikpur village in Gujarat’s Dahod district added that villagers have appealed to the district collector to provide safety to the villagers. Police have increased security in the village and have admitted that some people have moved out but has denied any exodus.
“We are scared. Several people have left the village out of fear of violence from the side of the convicts after their release. We have appealed to the collector to put the convicts behind bars and provide safety to the villagers,” said Sheikh.
He further said that 70 Muslim families are living in fear while many others have moved out and started staying with their relatives and well-wishers in other areas.
In the memorandum handed over to the Dahod district collector on Monday, villagers spoke about fear saying many residents of Randhikpur are moving out while discontinuing their daily job. Villagers said they were leaving because they fear for their safety, especially of women. They will not return until the 11 convicts are arrested, the memorandum said.
Bano was gangraped during the 2002 Gujarat riots and seven members of her family were murdered. Eleven people were convicted by a Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Court in 2008 and were sentenced to life. Acting on a plea of one of the convicts, the Supreme Court earlier this year directed the Gujarat government to consider the remission of their sentences, following which the government formed a panel that unanimously recommended their release. The Gujarat government ordered their release and the convicts walked free on August 15. They belong to a village near Randhikpur.
Police said the convicts are not present in the area but admitted that some villagers have left.
“We have deployed police personnel at fixed points after talking to local people and intensified patrolling after the villagers expressed concern over their safety,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police RB Devdha.
He said some villagers have left their homes and gone to live with their relatives in other towns and added that police are in touch with the people in Randhikpur and are addressing their concerns.
Dahod SP Balram Meena said the 11 convicts are natives of Singvad village near Randhikpur but they are not present in the area.
“The convicts were released on August 15. It is August 23. Had there been any exodus we would have known. Additionally, the released convicts themselves are not present in the area. They have gone away. We have not found any reason for local people to fear and flee,” said Meena.
Bano grew up in the village of Randhikpur and was gang raped there while she was visiting her parents in 2002.
Following the outcry over the incident, the Supreme Court had directed the CBI to probe the case, which secured convictions in 2008. The convictions were later upheld by the Supreme Court.
The release of convicts in the Bano case has attracted widespread criticism from lawyers, rights activists, and politicians, who have highlighted that several convicts for minor crimes remain imprisoned whereas convicts of such grave crimes —gang rape and murder— have been released. It has also been highlighted that the release of convicts goes against the call to respect women by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to the release of 11 convicts in the Bano case.
A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana on Tuesday took note of the submissions of Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal and lawyer Aparna Bhat against the grant of remission and consequent release of the convicts in the case. Sibal clarified that their plea is on the principles on the basis of which Gujarat government has released the convicts, not the apex court’s order that paved the way for it.
“We are only challenging the remission and not the Supreme Court order. The Supreme Court order is fine, My Lords. We are challenging the principles on the basis of which remission was granted,” Sibal said.
In a separate development, the release of convicts in the Bano case also figured in National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRC) discussions. Sources told media that NHRC Chairperson Justice (Retd.) Arun Kumar Mishra headed the discussion.
Earlier, the NHRC has played a key role in Bano’s case. She had approached the panel and it had provided her legal aid.
Significantly, in 2003, it was the NHRC’s crucial intervention that ensured legal assistance for Bano to approach the Supreme Court after the Gujarat police had closed the case.