Over 3,500 citizens pen open letter to Indian SC in support of Bilkis Bano

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Over 3,500 women and concerned citizens of India have lent their support to Bilkis Bano’s search for justice and written an open letter to the Indian Supreme Court expressing concern at the delay in hearing of her case.

Bilkis Bano is a rape and mass murder survivor fighting for justice after 11 convicts, who destroyed her life during the anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, were released early from prison.

In an open letter to the Supreme Court of India, the signatories of the letter expressed concern at the delay in the hearing of her appeal against the early release of the convicts. They asked where an aggrieved woman in India should go if the Supreme Court is not allowed to hear such a matter.

The list of signatories includes noted writer and activist Syeda Hameed, historian and scholar Uma Chakravarti, historian and academic Irfan Habib, PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) President Kavita Srivastava, noted theatre artists Maya Krishna Rao, social activist Anjali Bhardwaj, Vani Subramanian of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Nivedita Menon, and General Secretary of National Federation of Indian Women Annie Raja, among others.

Bilkis Bano wrote a letter after the release of her perpetrators in August 2022, stirring thousands of citizens and women in India to support her search for justice. As many as 6,000 citizens wrote an appeal to the Supreme Court of India, urging it to take cognisance and provide justice to her. Thousands of people across India wrote open letters to the Chief Justice of India expressing their horror at the impunity granted to the rapists and murderers in Bano’s case.

The support of so many people gave Bano the courage and strength to knock once more on the doors of justice. She approached the Supreme Court once again regarding the premature release of the convicts.

The delaying tactics and procedural subterfuge, which are being used to stall and derail court proceedings, are causing concern among the citizens of India, the letter said.

“Today we, citizens of this country, are watching with increasing alarm the blatant attempt being made to try and subvert justice in the highest court of the land. We see with distress how delaying tactics and procedural subterfuge are being deployed to try and stall and derail court proceedings. And we see Bilkis Bano still waiting, still hopeful, and still not being heard,” the letter said.

On May 02, 2023, the final hearing in Bano’s case, where she challenged the Gujarat government’s decision to release the convicts, could not occur in the Supreme Court. The postponement was due to objections raised by some of the convicts’ lawyers regarding Bano’s affidavit on the service of notice. They argued that Bano had made a false claim in the affidavit regarding the respondents’ refusal to accept service.

The bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna had scheduled the matter for a final hearing, but no effective hearing took place. Justice K M Joseph, during the proceedings, expressed his anguish at the delay in hearing and said to the respondents’ (convicts) lawyers, “It is clear what is being attempted here. I will retire on June 16. Since that is during the vacation, my last working day is Friday, May 19. It is obvious you do not want this bench to hear the matter. But, this is not fair to me. We had made it absolutely clear that the matter will be heard for disposal. You are officers of the court. Do not forget that role. You may win a case, or lose one. But, do not forget your duty to this court.”

The signatories of the open letter reaffirmed their solidarity with Bilkis Bano and every victim of sexual assault who has the courage to stand up for justice today. They urged the Supreme Court to listen to Bilkis Bano’s plea without further delay, as her long journey to justice is at a crucial juncture after 20 years.

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