In India, New Wave of Trauma as 11 Convicted of Rape and Murder Walk Free | Big Indy News
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In India, New Wave of Trauma as 11 Convicted of Rape and Murder Walk Free



GODHRA, India — For 15 years, as she moved from house to house for her family’s safety, Bilkis Bano waited for assurance from the courts that the men who gang-raped her and murdered many of her relatives would spend the rest of their lives in prison.

That finally came in 2017. In the years that followed, Ms. Bano said, she had been learning “slowly to live with my trauma” from the grisly communal bloodshed that racked the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 and devastated her family. She and her husband were now ready to settle into a new home close to relatives and restart their business selling goats and buffaloes.

Then, this past week, the 11 perpetrators walked free, welcomed with sweets and garlands.

“The trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again,” Ms. Bano said in a statement released by her lawyer on Wednesday. “I am still numb.”

She has stopped talking to anyone outside her home, Yakub Rasul, her husband, said in an interview. “They are now out,” Mr. Rasul said. “We are thinking, ‘What will they do to us?’”

The case of Bilkis Bano, a Muslim woman who was raped and her 3-year-old daughter killed by a Hindu mob, is a tragic reflection of India’s halting progress in addressing violence against women and of the deepening divides engendered by swelling Hindu nationalism.

The convicts’ early release came as the country marks 10 years since the horrific gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in the capital, New Delhi, which set off nationwide protests and led to collective soul-searching. The result was stricter laws, police reforms, wider protections for women and a continuing push to alter attitudes.

“I have one request to every Indian: Can we change the mentality towards our women in everyday life?” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address on the 75th anniversary of India’s independence this past week. “It is important that in our speech and conduct, we do nothing that lowers the dignity of women.”

But the freeing of the men on the same day as Mr. Modi’s speech — and at the same time that the government has faced criticism for jailing activists and voices of dissent for long stretches — showed how easily political machinations can undermine efforts at justice, analysts said.

Mr. Modi was the top official in Gujarat at the time of the 2002 sectarian violence. Then as now, he is accused by critics of fanning and exploiting the country’s religious polarization to consolidate the Hindu base of his Bharatiya Janata Party.

Some analysts saw the men’s release, after about 15 years in prison, as related to elections scheduled for December in Gujarat, the seat of Mr. Modi’s rise, where the B.J.P. has remained in power for two decades.

“Whether they committed the crime or not, I do not know,” C.K. Raulji, a governing party lawmaker who was part of a review committee that recommended the release, told the local news media.

Mr. Raulji went so far as to suggest that the men’s status as high-caste Hindus argued in favor of their freedom. “Their family’s activity was very good; they are Brahmin people,” he said, referring to their caste. “And as it is with Brahmins, their values were also very good.”

Later, facing a backlash, he claimed that his comments — which were caught on videotape — had been misconstrued.

In the spring, India’s Supreme Court directed the state government to hear the men’s request for release. While the state had changed its policy in 2014 to exclude perpetrators of crimes like rape and murder from such clemency, the men had asked for their case to be considered under the policy that was in place at the time of their crimes.

The review committee, stacked with members of the governing party, decided that the men should be freed, and the state government accepted the recommendation. Officials have indicated that the convicts’ good behavior in prison was a factor in their release.

“It is the government’s discretion to take appropriate action on the case based on its merits,” said Raj Kumar, the home secretary for the Gujarat government.

The state rejected advice from the trial court against a release, Indian news media reported. Mr. Kumar confirmed to The New York Times that the court’s opinion was among the elements that the committee deliberated, without providing detail. Legal experts worried about the precedent: that the painstaking work of pushing a case to a resolution through a backlogged judicial system could easily be overturned.

“The state governments are entrusted to follow the rules properly and wisely while exercising them,” said Abhay Thipsay, a retired judge. “Otherwise you can release people within months of their being sentenced.”

Ms. Bano’s case stems from a gruesome period of sectarian violence when Mr. Modi was chief minister of Gujarat. A series of riots began after nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive on a train. An initial inquiry declared the fire accidental, while subsequent commissions and court cases found it was the result of a conspiracy by a Muslim mob to attack Hindu pilgrims.

Retaliatory violence then swept across large parts of Gujarat, leaving more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, dead.

Ms. Bano was repeatedly raped by her assailants despite her pleas that she was five months pregnant. One of them took her 3-year-old daughter and “killed the infant by smashing her on the ground,” investigators testified. In all, 14 members of her family were killed as they tried to flee. The heads of several were severed; others were buried “in a pit with common salt” for decomposing.

In the two decades since, Mr. Modi’s lieutenants have assiduously tried to distance him from accusations that he and his administration looked the other way as the Hindu mobs rampaged. These officials have called the accusations a conspiracy by a “triad of political parties opposing the B.J.P., some journalists and some NGOs” to stain Mr. Modi’s image.

The Bano case was unusual for that period of violence in Gujarat not only because it reached a verdict, but also because at its center was evidence provided by the country’s Central Bureau of Investigation at a time when a B.J.P.-led coalition was in power in New Delhi.

To ensure a fair trial, India’s Supreme Court shifted the case to the neighboring state of Maharashtra. The central investigating body detailed how local police officials had conspired to cover up the crime, accusing them of “fabricating documents and causing disappearance of evidence.”

The men were sentenced to life in prison in 2008, and their appeal was rejected in 2017.

Today, a narrow road snaking through homes covered in terra cotta roofs and past abandoned farmland leads to the spot where residents say Ms. Bano and her family were attacked on March 3, 2002. A rock-faced hill with thorny vegetation overlooks the forested area where, they said, Ms. Bano was dragged and raped. Cows swim in the waters of a river nearby.

About six miles downhill, past mahua trees and colorful snack stands, is Ms. Bano’s former home in the Hindu-dominated village of Randhikpur. It is now occupied by fruit vendors and shops selling wholesale grains.

Directly across the road is where Radheshyam Shah, one of the 11 convicts, was welcomed by his wife and sisters this past week with homemade sweets. “People are saying, ‘They fed sweets to the convicts,’” Ashish Shah, Mr. Shah’s younger brother, said. “Are we not allowed to celebrate?”

The older Mr. Shah, who had returned from prison three days earlier, said over the phone that he was “innocent” and had left with his family for the state of Rajasthan on a Hindu pilgrimage.

For Ms. Bano and her family, the message of the welcome was entirely different. “If you are welcoming these rapists back into society, what will happen to this country’s women?” Mr. Rasul, her husband, said.

Ms. Bano had just begun seeking some semblance of normalcy in her life, cooking for the family and taking care of their five children, Mr. Rasul said. Three of them are teenage girls, and one they named Saleha, after the child they lost.

They had hoped to use the compensation money they received, ordered by the Supreme Court, to start a new life. “Now, that’s all finished,” Mr. Rasul said, “because we are living in fear.”

In her appeal to the Gujarat government, Ms. Bano requested that it “give me back my right to live without fear and in peace.”

“I trusted the system,” she said. “How can justice for any woman end like this?”

Karan Deep Singh reported from Godhra, Suhasini Raj from Lucknow, India, and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi.

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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills



The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists



This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’



Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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