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Pregnant Bilkis Raped, Her Family Murdered

Kirtivardhan Mishra

11 convicts serving life imprisonment in Godhra, Gujarat were released on 15 August 2022. All of them were serving sentence in the case of gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven members of her family. After the release of the convicts, Bilkis Bano and her family expressed disappointment over the decision and approached the Supreme Court on the matter. Now the verdict in this case has come on January 8. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Gujarat government and cancelled the remission granted to all the convicts.

The SC order draws into focus the Centre’s complicity, Modi’s silence on this issue and reminds people why cases were shifted out of Gujarat. The Supreme Court Bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and UjjalBhuyan said that the State of Gujarat ‘acted in complicity with the convicts”. Two cases related to Gujarat riots--Best Bakery and BilkisBano--were moved out from Gujarat to Maharashtra. The 11 convicted persons were feted with sweets and garlands after their release. C K Raulji, BJP MLA from Godhra was ‘one of the two BJP leaders who were part of the Gujarat government panel that unanimously decided to release the rapists.’

On 27 February 2002, Sabarmati Express was set on fire near Godhra station. In this incident, 59 ‘devotees’ [karsevaks] returning from Ayodhya died. Due to the incident, riots broke out in Gujarat. The fire of riots reached Bilkis’s family on March 3, 2002. At that time, there were 15 other members in the family with Bilkis and her three and a half year old daughter. According to the charge sheet, Bilkis’s family was attacked by 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and other weapons. These included 11 people who were convicted.

The rioters raped Bilkis, her mother and three other women of the family. Beat them all brutally. Seven out of 17 family members died in the attack. Six went missing. Only three people could survive. These included Bilkis, a man from his family and a three-year-old child. Bilkis was five months pregnant at the time of this incident. After the brutality of the rioters, Bilkis remained unconscious for about three hours.

After the incident, Bilkis reached Limkheda police station. Where she lodged the complaint. According to the CBI, head Constable Somabhai Gori, who recorded the complaint, suppressed material facts and distorted Bilkis’s complaint. She was even taken to the government hospital for medical examination when she reached the relief camp in Godhra. After the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court, Bilkis’s case was transferred to the CBI for investigation.

CBI started fresh investigation into the case. Investigation revealed that even the postmortem of those killed was not done properly. CBI investigators exhumed the bodies of those killed in the attack and found that none of the bodies even had a skull. According to CBI, after post-mortem, the heads of the corpses were cut off, so that the bodies could not be identified.

When the trial of the case started, Bilkis Bano started receiving death threats. After this the trial was shifted out of Gujarat to Maharashtra. Charges were filed against a total of 19 people, including six police officers and a doctor, in a Mumbai court. In January 2008, a special court convicted 11 accused of rape, murder, unlawful assembly and other charges. At the same time, the head constable was found guilty by the court of writing a wrong report to save the accused. Whereas, seven other accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence. At the same time, one accused died during the trial.

The 11 accused who were convicted include Jaswantbhai Nai, GovindbhaiNai, Naresh Kumar Mordhiya (deceased), Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, KesarbhaiVohaniya, Pradeep Vohaniya, BakabhaiVohaniya, RajubhaiSoni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandna and Head constable Somabhai Ghori was included. Jaswant, Govind and Naresh raped Bilkis. Shailesh killed Bilkis’s daughter Saleha by throwing her on the ground.

In May 2017, the Bombay High Court upheld the life imprisonment of 11 people in a gang rape case. At the same time, the remaining seven people including the policemen and the doctor were acquitted. In April 2019, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Bilkis within two weeks.

Radheshyam Shah, one of the 11 convicts, filed a petition in the Supreme Court for remission of sentence. The court asked the Gujarat government to take a decision on the petition. After this the Gujarat government had constituted a committee. This committee accepted the apology petition. After this these people were released.

Under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution, the President and the Governor have the power to commute, pardon and suspend the sentence of convicts convicted by the court. Prisoners are state subjects; hence state governments also have the right to waive the sentence under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

However, section 433A of CrPC also imposes some restrictions on the state government. For example, a convict sentenced to death or life imprisonment cannot be released from jail until he has served at least fourteen years of imprisonment. Radheshyam, who filed the petition for remission of sentence, had been in jail for 15 years and four months.

Bilkis challenged this order of the government in the Supreme Court. This order of the government can be challenged like any other government order. Hearing this, the Supreme Court cancelled the remission granted to all 11 convicts.

[Courtesy: Amar Ujala]

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Vol 56, No. 31, Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2024