Early Release of Bilkis Bano Convicts | Day 4: Petitioners Highlight the Heinous Nature of Crimes CommittedEarly Release of Bilkis Bano Gangrape Convicts
Today, the Supreme Court commenced hearing the challenge to the early release or remission of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case after several procedural delays. The Bench comprised Justices B.V. Nagarathana and Ujjal Bhuyan.
Previously, a division Bench comprising Justice K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagaratha heard the challenge. However, the case had to be reassigned to a new Bench owing to Justice Joseph’s retirement in June 2023. Notably, Justice Joseph had remarked that it was ‘obvious’ that the respondents aimed to divert the case from his Bench. Respondents had frequently sought the case to be adjourned, offering up excuses such as missing convicts, undelivered notices and more.
Justice B.V. Nagarathna—who has heard this case at least four times prior—appeared unfamiliar with the facts. ‘ What is the controversy?’ she asked Advocate Shobha Gupta who appeared for the petitioners.
Gupta patiently narrated the case in great detail to the Bench. She informed them about the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano that occurred in 2002, the previous interventions of the court, the CBI investigation and the nature of the crimes committed by the respondents.
During the Gujarat riots in March 2002, Ms. Bano and her family were fleeing from their home in Radhikpur village to Chapparwad village. However, before reaching they were ambushed by a group of men who gangraped Ms. Bano and murdered 14 of her family members including her infant daughter.
Ms. Bano approached the Supreme Court and in December 2003 the Court order the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate her allegations. The case was transferred to a special CBI Court in Bombay and in 2008 the Court imposed life sentences on 11 of the accused.
In May 2022, the SC Ordered the Gujarat State government to consider a request for remission made by one of the 11 convicts, under the 1992 remission policy. In August 2022, the Gujarat government granted the early release of all 11 convicts under the 1992 policy and publicly stated that they were released on ‘good behaviour’. However, this claim has been widely contested. Many allegations have been made claiming that many of the convicts violated their parole, made death sentences against Ms. Bano and her family, and had pending criminal cases against them for crimes committed while they were out on parole.
Ms. Bano and a host of other petitioners challenged the early release of the 11 convicts. They claimed that the Gujarat government should never have released them under the 1992 policy. The gravity of the offence should preclude any early release and further, none of the convicts had served the minimum sentence required to be considered under the 1992 policy.
Petitioners: The Crimes Committed were Heinous
Gupta read excerpts from the Bombay High Court’s judgement and the CBI report to establish that the crimes committed were planned, horrific, and part of communal attacks.
She reminded the Court that the accused gang-raped Bilkis Bano while she was pregnant. Her infant child was killed by being smacked to the ground. Further, 14 of her family members were brutally murdered. Their dead bodies were severely mutilated, and only seven bodies could be identified.
In addition, Gupta also submitted that the attack on Bilkis Bano and her family was planned and not merely a ‘spur-of-the-moment attack. She stated that the Muslims in the area, and more specifically Bilkis Bano and her family, were targeted and chased for days before the attack.
Gupta then informed the Bench that the convicts were not entitled to any leniency or remission of the sentence imposed, as per the opinions of the trial judge who convicted them and the CBI.
Early Release was Granted Without Considering the Nature of the Crime
Gupta focused on the Jail Superintendent’s opinion on Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah (the first accused to seek and receive remission). The Superintendent had recommended Shah be granted early release as he participated in correctional programs organised in the jail, worked diligently and was helpful to fellow inmates during his time in prison.
Gupta argued that the Superintendent’s opinion focused solely on Shah’s behaviour in prison and not the gravity of the crime, the number of deaths, or the impact it had on Bilkis Bano.
Justice Nagarathna was quick to interject. She stated that the Superintendent’s duty was limited to a convict’s conduct in prison, not anything else.
Arguments will resume tomorrow, August 7, 2023.