Bilkis Bano approached the Supreme Court and filed a review petition against the premature release of 11 convicts.
The 11 convicts had been sentenced to life terms for her rape and murder of seven family members of hers. Bilkis Bano approached the Supreme Court and filed a review petition against their premature release.
Shobha Gupta, Bilkis Bano’s lawyer said that she has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court. “Yes, we have filed a review petition in the Supreme Court. Bilkis Bano files the review petition in the Supreme Court, against the May order of the Supreme Court which allowed the Gujarat government to apply 1992 remission rules,” Shobha said.
She also said that she has also filed a writ petition challenging the premature release of the 11 convicts in the case. The plea filed by Bilkis said that “the 11 convicts could not have been released from jail.” Shobha Gupta mentioned the matter today before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for an early listing in the review petition, to which the CJI DY Chandrachud said, he will look into the plea. Bilkis’ review plea also said that the appropriate government would not be the state of Gujarat but the state of Maharashtra for releasing the 11 convicts in the case.
The remission Policy of the state of Maharashtra would govern this case. The Gujarat government in its order, had prematurely released 11 convicts for the murder of 14 persons and gangrape of women, including Bilkis Bano, during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in the state. Challenging this order, there is a batch of pleas, moved before the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing these, filed by CPI (M) MP Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and Prof Roop Rekha Verma.
Who is Bilkis Bano, and what happened to her in 2002?
On February 28, 2002, Bilkis ran from her village, Radhikpur in Dahod district, after violence erupted in the state in the aftermath of the previous day’s incident at Godhra station, in which the Sabarmati Express was set on fire, resulting in the deaths of dozens of pilgrims and kar sewaks returning from Ayodhya.
Bilkis was accompanied by her daughter Saleha, who was three-and-a-half years old at the time, and 15 other members of her family. They fled fearing a re-run of the arson and looting that had taken place in their village on the occasion of Bakr-Id a few days previously.
On March 3, 2002, the family reached Chapparwad Village. According to the charge sheet, they were attacked by about 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords, and sticks. Among the attackers were the 11 accused men.
Bilkis, her mother, and three other women were raped and brutally assaulted. Her toddler was killed before her. Of the 17-member group of Muslims from Radhikpur village, eight were found dead, six were missing.
Only Bilkis, a man, and a three-year-old survived the attack. Bilkis remained unconscious for at least three hours after the attack. After she regained consciousness, she borrowed clothes from an Adivasi woman and met a Home Guard who took her to the Limkheda police station. She registered a complaint with Head Constable Somabhai Gori who, according to the CBI, “suppressed material facts and wrote a contorted and trimmed version” of her complaint.
Bilkis was taken to a public hospital for medical examination only after she reached the Godhra relief camp. Her case was taken up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Supreme Court, which ordered an investigation by the CBI.
The CBI concluded that the post-mortem examination was carried out shoddily in order 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.
According to the CBI, the heads of the corpses had been severed after the autopsy, so that the bodies could not be identified. The trial was moved from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bilkis Bano received death threats. In the Mumbai court, charges were filed against 19 men, including six police officers and a government doctor.
In January 2008, a special court convicted 11 accused of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder, unlawful assembly, and charges under other sections of the Indian Penal Code. The Head Constable was convicted of “making incorrect records” to save the accused.
Seven persons were acquitted by the court, citing lack of evidence. One person died during the course of the trial.
The court held that Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya (deceased) had raped Bilkis, while Shailesh Bhatt had killed her daughter, Saleha, by “smashing” her on the ground.
Others who were convicted are Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Vohania, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana, and Head Constable Somabhai Gori.
However, when the Gujarat court set the 11 convicts free. Criticism rises stating that the men were sentenced to life imprisonment and how could they be set free. The act of setting them free on something like “good conduct in jail” is only weakening the law and emboldening the crime network further, and of course, failing to give justice to the victims.