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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

No, she does not want her rapists hanged

Gujarat riots victim Bilkis Bano, with her husband Rakub Rasool
Gujarat riots victim Bilkis Bano, with her husband Rakub Rasool.
Justice, not revenge, was what she had sought, said Bilkis Bano, the remarkable woman who single-handedly fought the legal system to secure the first-ever conviction of rape accused in a communal riot

“Mujhe mera nyay mila hai. Zindagi ki nayi shuruat karna chahti hun, bacchiyon ke liye. Mujhe insaaf chahiye, badla nahin (I got justice. I want a new beginning for my daughters. I want justice, not revenge).”

The words were clear and took many in her audience aback. Faced with a full house of activists and newsmen on Monday, and faced with the question whether she was disappointed that people who raped her during Gujarat 2002 riots got away lightly with life imprisonment, her voice betrayed no hesitation.

She wanted justice, not revenge. She is happy with whatever the Bombay High Court had done.

She had been gang raped, her three-year old daughter was taken away from her and her head smashed. Fourteen of her relatives, including her mother and sisters, were killed and she herself was left for dead, naked among the corpses.

There was no bitterness, as she added,“My faith in the Constitution and the idea of justice has been upheld and for that I am truly grateful to the honourable judges.”

She was referring to the verdict given by the Bombay High Court on Thursday, in which the court upheld life imprisonment of 11 men convicted for the gang rape and murder of her family members. The court also sentenced two doctors and five policemen for trying to destroy evidence.

With his own eyes brimming with tears, her husband Yakub informed the gathering, “My elder daughter wants to be a lawyer. I want every woman to get justice as Bilkis did.”

Bilkis Bano, who fought a heroic legal battle for 15 years to get justice, recalled the nightmare that she and her husband went through. “We were forced to change our home 25 times in 15 years because those who were convicted by the lower court were granted parole, and they would threaten us,” she said.

The Bombay High Court had not only upheld the decision of the lower court in its verdict, but also convicted those who were acquitted by the lower court. Dismissing the acquittal of seven accused – five policemen and two doctors – the Bombay High Court held them guilty.

The High Court noted, “The Limkheda police have conducted the post-mortem hurriedly, buried the dead bodies with sacks full of salt, so that the bodies would decompose faster.” About the doctors, the Bombay HC said, “It is evident that they were not only casual in conducting the post-mortem, but suppressed material information by way of omission.”

Nineteen year-old Bilkis Bano was five months pregnant when she was gang raped on March 2, 2002. She, along with her two-year-old daughter and 17 members of her family, was travelling in a truck, when an armed mob attacked them. Her mother Halima, cousin Shamim and 14 other members, were killed on the spot. She was the only one in the group who survived.

Her press conference on Monday was attended by hundreds of human rights activists, bureaucrats and journalists. NC Saxena, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and former member of the erstwhile Planning Commission said, “It was a historic moment of justice for communal crimes.”

Addressing the press conference, National award winning director Sonali Bose said, “The verdict clearly exposed state’s complicity in violence against its own citizens.”

Source: National Herald, Vishwadeepak, May 8, 2017

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