Many women lifers eligible for remission still in jail, says Teesta Setalvad The Telegraph

06, Sep 2022 | K.M. Rakesh

Shockingly, 11 convicts of the Bilkis Bano mass rape and murder were released on August 15 this year, says rights activist

Setalvad’s video message.
Setalvad’s video message.

While the Gujarat government freed rape and murder convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, many women lifers continue to languish in the state’s jails even after completing 14 years and becoming eligible for remission, social activist Teesta Setalvad said on Monday.

Setalvad, recently released from an Ahmedabad prison on bail, made the comments in a video message played on the fifth remembrance day for journalist Gauri Lankesh, shot dead outside her home in Bangalore by suspected Hindu extremists on September 5, 2017.

She said that at the Sabarmati women’s jail, she had met 17 life convicts eligible for but so far denied remission — a relief granted to the male lifers in the Bilkis case despite central guidelines against remission for convicts of heinous crimes. “Unfortunately, shockingly, 11 convicts of the Bilkis Bano mass rape and murder were released on August 15 this year. But the 17 women convicts in the Sabarmati women’s jail were anxiously waiting for their remission and still continue to be in prison,” Setalvad said.

She said she would launch a campaign to get them freed.“Unfortunately, justice in our country is lopsided, it’s perverted, it’s inside out, sometimes. And I think the time has come on September 5, 2022, the fifth anniversary of Gauri Lankesh’s brutal assassination, for us to seriously begin a campaign for prison reform,” she said.

Setalvad, a trenchant critic of the BJP, was arrested on June 25 on the charge of fabricating evidence to implicate people linked to the then Gujarat government in the 2002 riots. She was released on interim bail on Saturday.

Setalvad said she believed that Lankesh would have asked her about the condition of prisoners in the women’s jail where she had been lodged. “My experience in Sabarmati prison is extremely worrying because I was there from July 2 to September 3, 2022, and I saw the impact of the entire Covid paralysis on access to justice, which had impacted women’s ability to get bail and (led them to) be incarcerated,” she said.

She urged “citizens, civil society, human rights activists and political movements to look at what institutionalisation (imprisonment) does to women undertrials and prisoners”.“The Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad is actually run by 20 women convicts.
All the manual labour — they are cooking for us, cleaning, weeding, running the gates — and they are paid a pittance for this.”Setalvad said prisoners from outside Gujarat found the going tougher and their families often found it difficult to travel to meet them.

“You can’t speak the local language, you can’t understand the local language, you are allowed maybe one mulakat (visit) with family, but you can’t meet anybody who is not a blood relation,” she said.

‘MSP’ for MLAs

Author Arundhati Roy, who attended the remembrance day event in Bangalore, sarcastically demanded a “minimum support price” for lawmakers since many of them have been switching sides.“So, I have a suggestion for a new people’s movement only for our elected representatives. They should campaign like the kisan andolan (recent farmers’ movement) for MSP for members of Parliament and legislative assemblies — a minimum support price,” she said.

“Instead of going to these resorts (where their parties sequester them to pre-empt poaching) they can perhaps be stored in (a business group’s) godown and they can auction themselves and can demand at least a minimum wage.”She drew loud applause.

Roy said India was not a democracy anymore. “How is it possible that we live in a country where people go and vote for a person that represents a particular party and the day after tomorrow, that person doesn’t represent that party, and that is legal,” she said.“What kind of system is this? How is — with what is going on — this country counted as a democracy? It is not a democracy anymore.”

She added: “The question we have to ask ourselves is, what is it that brought us to a situation where people who are oppressed, people who have no employment, people who are suffering deeply, are voting for further hellishness upon themselves?” she said.

“What has brought people to believe propaganda more than the reality of their experience every day in their own homes and their kitchens? Why is it that people who have been oppressed by the caste system for centuries vote for those very people who uphold that system?”

The original piece may be read here

 

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