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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08MUMBAI29 2008-01-30 12:19:00 UNCLASSIFIED Consulate Mumbai
Cable title:  

BILKIS BANO VERDICT - A MUMBAI COURT HANDS OUT SENTENCES IN

Tags:   PHUM PGOV PREL IN 
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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 301219Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL MUMBAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5972
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 7182
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 1631
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 1050
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 1446
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUCNIND/ALL INDO COLLECTIVE
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MUMBAI 000029 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT PASS TO DRL/IRF FOR JOANELLA MORALES

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL IN
SUBJECT: BILKIS BANO VERDICT - A MUMBAI COURT HANDS OUT SENTENCES IN
A SYMBOLIC 2002 GUJARAT RIOT CASE

MUMBAI 00000029 001.2 OF 002




1. (U) SUMMARY: On January 21, 2008, a special court in Mumbai
convicted 12 Hindu men for their roles in the rape of Bilkis
Bano and the murder of her relatives during the Gujarat riots of


2002. The court sentenced 11 of 19 accused men to life in
prison on rape and murder charges and one policeman to three
years in prison for falsifying evidence. The court refrained
from using the death penalty and acquitted five policemen and
two doctors accused of destroying evidence. Despite the
acquittals, which Bano plans to appeal, the conviction and
sentencing of a policeman is being hailed as an important legal
precedent for bringing government officials complicit in
communal crimes to justice. The Government of Gujarat deserves
no credit for this conviction, however, as its inability to
provide a fair trial for this case resulted in its transfer out
of state. Although Human Rights groups are largely happy with
the result in this case, the continuing need to try these cases
outside of Gujarat will make more such victories difficult to
achieve. End Summary.


Bilkis Bano Sentences Delivered


--------------------------





2. (U) In March 2002, during the communal violence which swept
the state of Gujarat, a raging mob gang-raped Bilkis Bano, who
was pregnant at the time, and murdered 8 members of her family,
including her three-year-old daughter, and six other members of
her village. In 2004, following the local government's failure
to provide a proper police investigation of the incident and its
subsequent decision to drop the case, the Supreme Court ordered
the Central Bureau of Investigation to reopen the case and
transfer the trial to the neighboring state of Maharashtra on
the grounds that a fair trial was not possible in Gujarat.
Bano, who has remained in hiding since 2002, served as the
primary witness in the trial which ultimately brought many of
her attackers to justice. Bano's case is now the second Gujarat
riot case to be transferred out of the state to be tried in a
special Mumbai court.


Background - The Gujarat Riots


--------------------------





3. (U) About 1,000 people (a majority of them Muslims) were
killed in three months of violent anti-Muslim reprisals from
March to May 2002 after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims
returning from the site of a destroyed mosque in Ayodhya caught
fire in unclear circumstances resulting in the death of 59
Hindus. Hindu groups blamed a Muslim mob for the fire, although
a 2006 inquiry later claimed that it was an accident. Many
accused the Government of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) for indirectly supporting the violence by failing to
provide any preventative measures.



4. (U) Of the initial 4,000+ cases registered against the
rioters, over 2,000 were dismissed by the Gujarat police for
lack of evidence. By 2004, only a handful of Hindus had been
convicted for crimes related to the 2002 riots and most of the
accused had been acquitted due to lack of witnesses or evidence.
In the few emblematic cases where convictions have been
delivered, including the Best Bakery case and the Bilkis Bano
case, a civil rights group has intervened to assist in
protecting the witnesses and provide for their well-being,
covering substantial legal charges. (Note: In 2006, in the
"Best Bakery Case", a Mumbai retrial sentenced nine Hindus to
life for an arson attack on a bakery during the riots that left
12 Muslims dead. The original trial had resulted in acquittals,
amid accusations of witness intimidation. Following this
verdict in 2007, a local court in Godhra, Gujarat convicted 11
individuals on similar charges suggesting federal oversight may
be having an effect on local courts in Gujarat. End Note.)

Comment


--------------------------





5. (U) Observers of the Gujarat justice process are divided
about the efficacy of retrials outside the state. While legal
scholars have stated that transferring cases outside Gujarat
sets a bad precedent, plaintiffs continue to demand such
transfers on the grounds that they continue to endure political
interference amid an atmosphere of fear. At the same time, the
NGOs that have assisted victims with the two re-trial cases
believe that moving these cases to Mumbai led to the Gujarat
lower judiciary becoming more cautious in hearing other riot
related cases. The transfer of the "Best Bakery" and "Bilkis

MUMBAI 00000029 002.2 OF 002


Bano" cases outside the state may have contributed to a handful
of convictions in pursuant cases heard in Gujarat.



6. (U) Despite the Bano convictions, NGOs are not confident
that justice will be delivered to the majority of Gujarat's
Muslim victims. Gagan Sethi of "Janvikas" who assisted in the
Bano case, informed us, "I have overstayed my welcome at all my
Mumbai relatives' houses. Your city is very expensive. My
small NGO simply does not have the wherewithal to see another
case through." At the same time, independent observer Anosh
Malekar, currently writing a book on the Gujarat riots of 2002,
informed us that justice may not be the primary objective for
many of the victims, stating, "for the poor, ultimately, peace
is more important than justice. They would much rather resume
normal lives again, than insist on ephemeral justice from an
ill-performing judicial process. The powers that be in Gujarat
know that they just have to be thick-skinned and wait it out
until the victims give up." Bano echoed this sentiment at a
recent press conference in Delhi following the court verdict,
stating, "The last six years have been terrible. I have had to
change homes many times and have had to stay away from Gujarat
because the government and police refused to protect me... I
want to educate my children and lead a peaceful life." While
justice was ultimately delivered to Bilkis Bano, no credit is
due the Government of Gujarat which proved unable to provide for
a fair trial and required federal interference to bring the
perpetrators to justice. With the recent conviction of 11
people in a Godhra court, activists hope that courts in Gujarat
may begin adjudicating more outstanding cases fairly. End
comment.
OWEN