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Bilkis Bano Rape: SC to Hear Pleas Against Release of 11 Convicts Today | Recap of Case That Shook India

By: News Desk

News18.com

Last Updated: August 25, 2022, 09:02 IST

Gujarat, India

The remission granted by the Gujarat government to the convicts has been challenged before the Supreme Court. (Image: PTI)

The remission granted by the Gujarat government to the convicts has been challenged before the Supreme Court. (Image: PTI)

After violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 'karsevaks 'on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano --- who was five-months pregnant at the time --- fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others. On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them. Bano was gang raped, while seven members of her family were killed

The Supreme Court is all set to hear on Thursday three petitions challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The men, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the gang rape and murder of seven members of Bano’s family, walked out of Godhra sub-jail on Monday after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, triggering a massive political row. A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee, said Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the panel.

“A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and we received the orders for their release,” said Mayatra.

News18 revisits the horrific case and how the convicts walked out of jail:

Who is Bilkis Bano?

After violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks ‘on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano — who was five-months pregnant at the time — fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others. On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them. Bano was gang raped, while seven members of her family were killed. Six other members managed to run away.

Given the outrage over the incident, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe. The accused in the case were arrested in 2004. The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.

What did the CBI find?

The agency concluded that the post-mortem examination was carried out shoddily to protect the accused. CBI investigators exhumed the bodies of those killed in the attack, and said that none of the seven bodies had skulls, The Indian Express reported.

It also said the heads had been severed after the autopsy to ensure the bodies could not be recognised.

How the case proceeded

The special CBI court on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment. They were convicted on charges of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under the Indian Penal Code. The special court acquitted seven other accused for want of evidence. One of the accused had died during the trial. In its 2018 order upholding the conviction of the accused persons, the Bombay High Court set aside the acquittal of seven persons.

The Supreme Court, in April 2019, directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakh compensation, a job, and a house to Bilkis Bano. The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

Convict’s appeal

One of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah, had approached the Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The high court dismissed his plea while observing that the “appropriate government” to decide about his remission is Maharashtra and not Gujarat.

Shah then filed a plea in the Supreme Court, pleading that he had been in jail for 15 years and 4 months without remission as of April 1, 2022. In its order dated May 13, the top court stated that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine Shah’s application.

The SC directed the Gujarat government to consider the application for premature release in terms of the policy dated July 9, 1992, and may decide within two months.

What is the law on remissions?

Under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution, the President and Governors have the power to pardon, and to suspend, remit, or commute a sentence passed by the courts. Also, since prisons is a state subject, state governments have powers under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to remit sentences.

What are the grounds for remission?

States set up a Sentence Review Board to exercise the powers under Section 432 of the CrPC. Seriousness of the crime, the status of the co-accused and conduct in jail are the factors considered for granting remission. The Supreme Court, in 2000, detailed five grounds on which remission is considered: Whether the offence is an individual act of crime that does not affect the society; Whether there is a chance of the crime being repeated in future; Whether the convict has lost the potentiality to commit crime; Whether any purpose is being served in keeping the convict in prison; and Socio-economic conditions of the convict’s family.

Who said what?

All the 11 life term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008, a top government official said on Tuesday and rejected claims of contravention of the Centre’s guidelines in the matter.

“These 11 persons were convicted by a special court in Mumbai in 2008. At the time of conviction, Gujarat was following a remission policy which came into effect in 1992. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, it directed us to decide about the release under the 1992 policy, because that was prevalent when conviction came in 2008,” Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Raj Kumar told news agency PTI.

Slamming the decision, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said: “The BJP government in Gujarat released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. This decision brings out the BJP government’s mindset.”

Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale said Bilkis Bano was “raped in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and her entire family was murdered and buried in a mass grave”. “Gujarat govt has now released all 11 monsters who were convicted of this heinous crime. Where’s the outrage by people & the Noida media? Not even a whimper,” he tweeted.

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first published:August 17, 2022, 11:53 IST
last updated:August 25, 2022, 09:02 IST