India’s Supreme Court overturns early release of 11 men convicted of gang rape | ET REALITY

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India’s highest court on Monday restored life sentences for 11 Hindu men convicted of the gang rape of a Muslim woman in a case that became a powerful symbol of widespread violence against Indian women and communal tensions. often exacerbated by Indian politicians.

The victim, Bilkis Bano, was three months pregnant when she and 15 members of her family tried to flee their village in 2002 during Hindu-Muslim violence in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The chief minister of Gujarat at that time was Narendra Modi, who is now the Indian prime minister.

Ms. Bano and her family were attacked by heavily armed Hindu rioters who, in addition to raping Ms. Bano, also killed her 3-year-old daughter by smashing her head against a stone and raped her mother and a cousin. The attackers were convicted of rape and murder.

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court said the Gujarat government had acted beyond its powers by granting the attackers early release from prison in August 2022. The court ordered the men, who had been received by nationalists right-wing Hindus with sweets and garlands in their hands. return home in 2022, to surrender in two weeks.

Vrinda Grover, a New Delhi-based human rights lawyer, said the court’s decision amounted to “a scathing indictment of the state of Gujarat.”

The trigger for the 2002 riots, which left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims, was the burning of a train that killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims. Modi has long been accused of turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, mob violence, although the Supreme Court cleared him of the allegations.

In 2008, a court sentenced 11 of the 13 defendants in the Bano case to life in prison on charges of murder and gang rape.

When the Gujarat government, led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, ordered the release of the convicts in 2022, it was widely seen as an effort to rally the party’s Hindu right-wing base ahead of state elections. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, considered Modi’s right-hand man, approved of Gujarat’s decision. The BJP won the state elections.

After the 11 men were freed, Ms Bano said: “I will stand up and fight again, against what is wrong and for what is right.”

On Monday, Supreme Court justices wrote that they had considered whether a sentence reduction was appropriate in cases of crimes such as those committed against Ms. Bano. They said the men had lost their right to freedom once they were convicted and jailed and that the Gujarat government lacked the authority to reduce the sentence because the trial had been moved from Gujarat to Mumbai.

“The court’s primary duty is to uphold justice and the rule of law,” the justices wrote in an order. “Justice encompasses not only the rights of those convicted but also the rights of victims.”

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