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New Delhi: A Bharatiya Janata Party legislator who was part of the state government’s panel that recommended releasing 11 men convicted of the 2002 gang rape of Bilkis Yakoob Rasool and the mass murder of 14 of her family members has defended the controversial decision on the grounds that the rapists were “Brahmins and have good sanskar (values)”.
Godhra MLA C.K. Raulji – one of at least four members of the committee with affiliations to the BJP – made this statement in an interview to Mojo News. He also cast doubts on the guilt of the 11 men, saying that in a communal situation it is possible that innocent people can be made a party to a crime.
The 11 men were convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 after the Supreme Court decided to hand over investigation of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation following a complaint from the National Human Rights Commission that the Gujarat police – which reported to then chief minister Narendra Modi – was protecting the accused. The apex court also agreed with the NHRC’s request that the case be tried in Maharashtra since the Gujarat government could not be counted upon to ensure a fair trial.
On Wednesday, the 11 men walked free following the Gujarat government’s decision to release them.
“The incident from 2002 – who was Bilkis Bano, what happened, I did not know,” Raulji said, adding, that “from government, we were told that our committee was formed on the basis of the Supreme Court’s guidelines. And we have to look at the behaviour of these 11 people, especially their behaviour in jail. So we spoke to the jailor and we did not hear that they had engaged in any riot or violence there.”
“We have to look at their behaviour, and their earlier behaviour, and their family’s activities were very good,” said Raulji. “They are Brahmins, and as it is Brahmins have good sanskar [values]”.
Opposition parties have criticised the BJP for its decision to release the men, and Raulji’s statement – especially his casteist reference to the supposed virtues of Brahmins – has added to the sense of anger and outrage:
“They are Brahmins, Men of Good Sanskaar. Their conduct in jail was good”: BJP MLA #CKRaulji
— YSR (@ysathishreddy) August 18, 2022
Asked about the Union home ministry’s guidelines prohibiting remission of sentence for prisoners convicted of rape or terrorism, Raulji said, “We don’t know anything about this. But the convicts’ behaviour – what their earlier behaviour was like before they were sent to jail, and now, their family members, they are silent and honest men, and someone can be trapped in a communal situation, there are people of two communities, and innocent people can perhaps be made a party. So it is clear that they had not done any crime before, and what happened [in 2002] – there was a communal situation where there are members of one community and also the other. This was in the past, and someone can also be [unfairly] punished based on bad intentions.”
The Gujarat government’s decision to release the killers has been denounced by Bilkis. In a short statement, she said she was “bereft of words. I am still numb.”
“Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts. No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision.”
Over 6,000 people – including hundreds of women’s rights activists – have urged the Supreme Court to revoke the decision to grant the convicts remission of their sentence.