Statement by People’s Union for Democratic Rights
The controversial garlanding of the recently released 11 individuals, by members allegedly belonging to the VHP on August 16, 2022, raises a pertinent question: why were these individuals released? Obviously, the fact that they had been in prison for well over the mandatory 14 years made them eligible for availing the remission policy of the state government.
It is a settled principle within remission policy that the pre-mature release of convicted prisoners must fulfil the goals of rehabilitative or reformative justice. For this reason, remission is not an automatic process available to all convicts who have served 14 years; instead, there are clear criteria for eligibility. While the report prepared by the state government’s committee formed after the Supreme Court’s judgment of May 2022 is not available, it is reasonable to ask how the 11 individuals fulfilled the criteria.
Why did the committee choose this case of 11 individuals? Since they had been convicted for heinous crimes, what steps has the committee, and the state government, taken to ensure protection to the survivors of the said crimes? This is particularly important as per a directive issued by the Home Department of the Gujarat Government in 2014, it is clearly stated (in its annexure) that those accused of murder and rape cannot be considered eligible for pre-mature release. In the present instance, all 11 had been convicted for murder and gang rape. Further, since remission is dependent on the conduct of the prisoners, how did the committee address the fact that in while on parole in 2020, two of the eleven had threatened and assaulted a witness of the 2002 riot case? Given these questions, how did the committee “unanimously” decide on the release of these 11 convicts? The presence of five members from the BJP, including two legislators, on the ten-member committee raises serious questions of its neutrality and impartiality.
As has been observed, the purpose of this release should not serve narrow political considerations merely because all 11 have served more than 14 years. Judging by the timing of the release, the celebratory reception of the released, including an open championing of their Brahmin status by a member of the committee, it is obvious that this release is a politically motivated based on communal, casteist and misogynist concerns. Quite clearly, the committee has cynically used the laid down policy of remission for serving its political ends.
Since this reprehensible politics of the committee coincides with that of the released individuals who have stated that they had been framed because of their ideology, the release insidiously questions the established legal process, right up to the judgment of the Bombay High Court, through which the crimes of gang rape and murder committed by 11 men, were judged and punished.
PUDR strongly deplores this politically motivated release of 11 convicts and believes that the institutions of justice should not be subverted by such a blatant show of political expediency.
Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya