Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped and seven members of her family slaughtered during the 2002 Gujarat riots, on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court challenging the remission of sentence of 11 convicts in the case by the state government, saying their premature release has “shaken the conscience of society”.
IMAGE: Bilkis Yakub Rasool Bano. Photograph: ANI Photo
Besides the plea challenging the release of the convicts, the gang-rape survivor has also filed a separate petition seeking a review of the apex court’s May 13, 2022, order on a plea by a convict.
The top court had asked the state government to consider the plea for premature release of the convicts in terms of its policy of July 9, 1992, about deciding a remission petition within a period of two months.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha was urged by the counsel for Bano that her two separate pleas, one challenging the remission and the other seeking a review of the apex court’s direction, be listed for urgent hearing.
The top court took note of the submission by lawyer Shobha Gupta that Justice Ajay Rastogi, who was part of the bench which had heard other similar pleas against the remission, was now part of a Constitution bench hearing.
“The review has to be heard first. Let it come before Justice Rastogi,” the CJI said.
The counsel for Bano suggested that the review plea, which as per the apex court rules are decided in chambers by the judges concerned, be heard in an open court.
“Only the court concerned can decide that (open court hearing),” the CJI said, adding he will take a call on the listing of both the matters in the evening.
Bano, in her plea against the grant of remission which had led to the release of the convicts on August 15, said the state government passed a ”mechanical order” completely ignoring the requirement of law as laid down by the Supreme Court.
”The en masse premature release of the convicts in the much talked about case of Bilkis Bano, has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” she said in the plea.
Referring to past verdicts, the plea said en masse remissions are not permissible and moreover, such a relief cannot be sought or granted as a matter of right without examining the case of each convict individually based on their peculiar facts and role played by them in the crime.
”The present writ petition challenging the decision of the state/ central government granting remission to all the 11 convicts and releasing them prematurely in one of the most gruesome crimes of extreme inhuman violence and brutality by a group of human beings upon another group of human beings, all helpless and innocent people — most of them were either women or minors, by chasing them for days together persuaded by hate towards a particular community,” it said.
The plea, which gave minute details of the crime, said Bano and her grown-up daughters were ”shell-shocked with this sudden development”.
The decision of the government came as a shock to the citizens, nationally and internationally, and the society across segments showed ”anger, disappointment, distrust” and protested the clemency shown by the government.
”When the nation was celebrating its 76th Independence Day, all the convicts were released prematurely and were garlanded and felicitated in full public glare and sweets were circulated and this is how the present petitioner along with the entire nation and the whole world came to know about the shocking news of premature release of all the convicts (respondents no. 3-13) of one of the most gruesome crime this country has ever seen of multiple time gang rape of a pregnant woman,” it said.
It referred to wide-virtual public protest in each city, on all social media platforms and news channels, portals.
“It was also reported heavily that Muslims of the area started fleeing away from Rahimabad in fear after release of these 11 convicts,” the plea said.
The separate review plea said Bilkis Bano was not made a party to the petition by a convict who along with others was released under the state’s remission policy which is not in force.
”In view of the development that the policy dated July 09, 1992, stood cancelled vide circular dated May 08, 2003, of State of Gujarat, it was necessary to be examined whether still the policy dated 09.07.1992 would be the relevant policy for remission application of the convicts to be considered, if at all the state of Gujarat is the appropriate government under section 432 CrPC,” the review plea said.
The top court is already seized of PILs filed by CPI-M leader Subhashini Ali, Revati Laul, an independent journalist, and Roop Rekha Verma, who is a former vice chancellor of the Lucknow University, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.
The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.
A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven members of her family.
Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay high court and the Supreme Court.
The 11 men convicted in the case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.