‘Wrong; Very Bad Precedent Set’: Judge Who Convicted 11 Men in Bilkis Bano Case on Their Release

"This is an irony. Our prime minister spoke of women empowerment, and the state from where he comes, released these men, who gang-raped a helpless woman," the former high court judge said.

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New Delhi: Days after 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case were granted an early release under the Gujarat government’s remission policy, Justice U.D. Salvi, the former Bombay high court judge who had convicted them condemned the move, saying it ‘has set a very bad precedent’.

“A very bad precedent has been set. This is wrong, I would say. Now, convicts in other gang rape cases would seek similar reliefs,” he told Bar and Bench.

Justice Salvi added that the decision would have wide ramifications.

He further said that it is ironic that the state of Gujarat let the 11 men out of jail at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is urging Indians to respect women and avoid demeaning them.

“Certainly, this is an irony. Our prime minister spoke of women empowerment, and the state from where he comes, released these men, who gang-raped a helpless woman,” the judge said.

Justice Salvi had convicted the 11 men and sentenced them to life imprisonment in 2008. He had also acquitted seven other accused men due to lack of evidence.

However, in May 2017, the Bombay high court bench of Justices Vijaya Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar upheld the conviction of the 11 accused, and also convicted the seven men acquitted by Justice Salvi.

The convicts were released under the remission policy of the Gujarat government made in 1992. However, these convicts would not have been released if the state government would have gone by the current remission policy, which was formulated in 2014.

Also read: ‘I Fear for Our Future’: Bilkis Bano’s Husband on Release of 11 Convicts

Added to that, the Union government’s new guidelines were also ignored while granting remission to these convicts in the rape case.

In June this year, the Union home ministry, as part of India’s 75th year of Independence, had issued guidelines that special remission was to be granted to prisoners on August 15, 2022, January 26, 2023 and August 15, 2023. However, the guidelines made it clear that rape and murder convicts cannot be released by the state government.

Criticising the use of the 1992 remission policy, Justice Salvi said, “I am given to understand that the Supreme Court had ordered the state government to consider the pleas of these convicts under the 1992 policy. Still…how can the top court of our nation can allow such a decision?”

He further pointed out as to how the 1992 policy was made applicable to these convicts.

“There is no clarity if the State has made amendments to Section 376(2)g of the Indian Penal Code and its definition. Has the State changed the definition of gravity of this offence of gangrape? If there is a modification in its definition, then the 1992 policy would be applicable. But if the definition and gravity of gangrape continues to be the same without amendment, then the policy of 2014 would be applicable, which would mean they shouldn’t be given remission,” he told the news outlet.

He further said, “Punishment is given to ensure that it dawns upon the accused that he has done something wrong. The accused must be remorseful and express repentance. There isn’t any clarity if these men have expressed such remorse or repentance in the present case. Have they expressed that they feel sorry and have realised their guilt?”

He condemned the convicts being welcomed with sweets and garlands outside the jail after they were released.

“This is bad in taste. I don’t know why people are welcoming them like this. I believe the people felicitating these convicts have political objectives and agenda. This shouldn’t happen at all,” he said.