Bilkis Bano Gang Rape Trial

Arup Kumar Sen

Gujarat riots of 2002 symbolise a dark chapter in the history of post-colonial India. To put it in the words of Frontline: “…State-wide riots in Gujarat… lasted seven days, leaving over a 1,000 dead and more than a lakh in refugee homes. The victims were primarily Muslims and the attackers Hindus. It is considered India’s worst riot since Partition.” (See 2002: Godhra Riots, frontline.the hindu. com, August 15, 2022)

21-year-old Bilkis Bano was gang-raped and 14 members of her family were murdered during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Among those murdered was 3-year-old daughter of Bilkis Bano. Bilkis was pregnant at the time of mob violence.

A special CBI court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gangrape and murder of 14 members of Bilkis Bano’s family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. (‘Bilkis Bano Case’, The Wire, August 16, 2022)

On August 15, 2022, all the convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape and mass murder case were released from a jail in Godhra after being granted remission by the Gujarat government. Live Law noted in this context: The Gujarat government has told the Supreme Court that it decided to release the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case on completion of their 14 years sentence as their “behaviour was found to be good” and after approval from the centralgovernment. (‘Bilkis Bano Rape Case’, Live Law, October 17, 2022)

Very recently (March 27, 2023), the Supreme Court conducted hearing of the petitions against the premature release of the 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano case. Reportedly, the Supreme Court bench of Justices K M Joseph and B V Nagarathna issued notices to the central and Gujarat governments, seeking responses on the rationale and policy adopted for the convicts’ release. It asked the two governments to be ready with the files relating to the remissions (The Telegraph, March 28, 2023). Justice K M Joseph, heading the Bench, asked during the hearing: “What is your answer to something which is said to be… a very horrendous act… I have the experience of people coming to this court saying that they have been languishing in jail for ordinary cases of murder, their remission is not being considered. So does the state have an across-the board, level-headed… policy.” (Quoted in The Indian Express, March 28, 2023). Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for Bilkis Bano, said that the jurisdiction for possible remission was actually vested with the Maharashtra government since the trial was held in Maharashtra, but Gujarat wrongly exercised the power to grant remission (See The Telegraph, March, 28, 2023). Senior advocate, Kapil Sibal, appearing for some of the PIL petitioners, asked: “This is not an ordinary case. The matter was transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra by this court because there was no confidence in the Gujarat government. But now the same state has decided their remission. What is this?” (ibid.)

The Supreme Court posted the matter for next hearing on April 18, 2023. The alarming fact is that a few days before the last hearing of the case in Supreme Court (on March 25, 2023), one of the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case was found sharing stage with the BJP MP from Gujarat’s Dahod and his brother, the BJP MLA from Limkheda, in a government programme. (The Wire, March 27, 2023)

The above developments make us apprehensive of state of justice in BJP-ruled India.


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Vol 55, No. 43, April 23 - 29, 2023