Three petitions challenging the release of 11 men convicted for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots will be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow. The convicts were released by the Gujarat government on Independence Day under an outdated remission policy, which turned into a huge political controversy. In 2019, the Supreme Court had awarded Bilkis Bano the highest-ever compensation in a rape case — a job, a house and Rs 50 lakh.
On Tuesday, the court agreed to consider the petitions filed by CPM Politburo member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and one other person. A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana agreed to hear the matter after submissions by senior advocates Kapil Sibal (appearing for Ms Ali) and Abhishek Singhvi (appearing for Ms Moitra), and lawyer Aparna Bhat.
The convicts were sentenced to life term in prison by a special court in Mumbai in 2008 for the gangrape and the murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. The sentence was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
The Supreme Court passed on the matter of remission to the state government after one of the convicts had approached it with an appeal for release.
The Gujarat government decided to release all the men after a unanimous recommendation from a panel that included multiple members with link to the state’s ruling BJP.
What made it more controversial was that the recommendation was based on a 1992 remission policy of the state, which did not have restrictions on premature release of those convicted for rape or sentenced to life imprisonment. It was later updated by the state in line with the Central policy that does not allow convicts serving life term or those convicted for gang-rape to walk free.
Bilkis Bano has said she was not consulted or informed about the decision.
The special court judge who convicted the men has raised questions about the Gujarat government’s decision.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Justice UD Salvi, who retired as a judge of the Bombay High Court, said: “Did they ask the judge under whom the case was heard? I can tell you that I heard nothing regarding this… In such cases, the state government needs to take advice from the central government as well. Did they do that? I have no idea. If they did, what did the central government say?”
“I don’t know if they went through the procedure or not,” he had added.
Days after the convicts’ release, Bilkis Bano said it has “shaken” her faith in the justice system and left her “shocked” and “numb”. The family has been too distraught to decide on any legal step.
“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma… My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” added the woman, who was 21 years old when she went through the horrific experience in March 2002.
Seven members of her family were murdered before her eyes — among them her three-year-old daughter, whose head was bashed with a rock. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared “missing”. The woman, five months’ pregnant, was then gang-raped. The family was attacked as they hid in the fields in Gujarat’s Dahod, as violence swept the state following the attack on Sabarmati Express, in which 59 people, mostly kar sevaks, died.