The Tears of Relief

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The Supreme Court of India decided on Monday that 11 men, found guilty of gang-raping a Muslim woman and killing her relatives during one of the country’s deadliest religious riots, and who were released two years ago by a state government, should report back to jail, CNN reported.

The top court said the western state of Gujarat lacked the competence to issue the decision that released the men because they had been tried and convicted in neighboring Maharashtra. It ordered them to return to prison within two weeks.

Bilkis Bano, the victim in the case, welcomed the ruling with “tears of relief” after a 22-year-long struggle for justice.

In February 2002, centuries-old divisions in Gujarat culminated in violent clashes between its Hindu majority and Muslim minority, killing more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Bano was 21 years old and pregnant at the time. Amid the riots, a Hindu mob attacked her family, armed with swords, sticks, and sickles. They killed 14 of her relatives, including her 3-year-old daughter, while three members of the group raped her.

The rapists were arrested two years later and were sentenced to life in prison by a court in Maharashtra in 2008.

Nonetheless, in 2022, the Gujarat government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), released the men based on a provision enabling a state government to grant parole to prisoners having served at least 14 years.

Bano was dismayed by the decision, which sparked outrage and protests across India. Critics said it highlighted the misogynist and discriminatory culture in the country, where it is estimated a woman is raped every 17 minutes.

Critics have also alleged that Modi, then head of the Gujarat administration, facilitated the violence, although an official inquiry into the matter rejected the claim.

Bano’s supporters described the Supreme Court’s judgment as “phenomenal.” However, since it quashed Gujarat’s move based on the state’s constitutional powers, it does not prevent the government of Maharashtra, also led by the BJP, from issuing a similar decision, Al Jazeera explained.

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