On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Gujarat government to release 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case. The bench of Justice B.V. Nagarathna and Justice Ujjwal Bhuyan pronounced that punishment should be given to prevent crimes.
The Supreme Court had conducted a hearing in Bilkis Bano’s case. In the gangrape case involving 11 convicts, the Supreme Court has annulled its own decision to release the convicts. The court considered the plea for reconsideration. The bench made a pronouncement on the decision taken on October 12, 2023.
Bilkis Bano had filed a petition in the Supreme Court. The bench had considered the plea for reconsideration made within a month of the order. The reconsideration was sought on the basis that the government of Gujarat would decide on the punishment for the convicts. Bilkis had argued that when the hearing of the case is going on in Maharashtra, how can the Gujarat government make a decision?
In the Supreme Court, the bench had asked for a reconsideration of all the petitions related to the case. The court will reconsider the punishment for all 11 convicts. In the hearing on August 15, 2022, Bilkis Bano had been released as part of the Independence Day celebrations.
With Bilkis filing a petition in the Supreme Court, this is the first time a social activist has filed a petition in this case. After Bilkis filed the petition, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said that in this case, a reconsideration would be made on all petitions submitted.
During the hearing, on August 17, 2023, Justice Nagarathna raised a crucial question about the selective benefit of parole only to Bilkis’ convicts and not to others. The court also inquired about the paradox of demanding an opinion when the Godhra court had not conducted a trial, and how the real opinion could be sought afterward.
On August 24, 2023, a lawyer of one of the convicts stated that his client had served the entirety of his actual sentence and had been practicing law after being released. Expressing surprise, the Supreme Court questioned how this happened and whether the convicted person could practice. The court was astonished when informed that the convicted person had completed his sentence before seeking release.
Then, on September 20, 2023, the court asked the lawyer representing the 11 convicts whether seeking forgiveness is a fundamental right for the convicts. The lawyer admitted that seeking forgiveness is not a fundamental right for the convicts.
The Supreme Court’s comments during these hearings suggest a deep concern about the inconsistencies and potential shortcomings in the legal process and the application of laws related to parole, release, and post-release activities of convicts.
Surviving the Horrors: Bilkis Bano’s Ordeal
On March 3, 2002, as the aftermath of the Godhra riots unfolded in Gujarat, the village of Radhikapur in the Dahod district became a battleground. Bilkis Bano and her family sought refuge in their fields to escape the raging violence. At the age of 21 and pregnant for five months, Bilkis was no stranger to the turmoil.
In an attempt to shield themselves from the fury, Bilkis and her family hid in the fields. However, the tempest of violence found them. Bilkis, along with her mother and three other women, became victims of a brutal gang rape. The assault also claimed the lives of six family members, whose fates remained unknown for months.
Surviving the harrowing incident, Bilkis, a mother, and a three-year-old child emerged as the sole survivor of this tragedy. This shocking tale sheds light on the vulnerabilities faced by innocent lives caught in the crossfire of communal violence, leaving scars that last a lifetime.
Bilkis Bano Case: Triumph Amidst Tragedy
In January 2008, the Special Court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pronounced a landmark judgment in the Bilkis Bano case. At the young age of 21, Bilkis, pregnant at the time, became a victim of communal violence during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. The atrocities she endured were not only harrowing but also deeply tragic.
The Special Court, in its verdict, condemned 11 accused to life imprisonment for their involvement in the brutal gangrape and murders that took place during the communal violence in 2002. The Bombay High Court upheld the sentences, and the convicts were initially held in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai, and later transferred to Nashik Jail.
It took nearly nine years for all the accused to be released on bail, with their freedom being granted from the Godhra sub-jail. The legal battle was arduous, but justice, although delayed, was finally served.
Bilkis Bano’s resilience throughout this ordeal became a symbol of strength and triumph against all odds. The case not only highlighted the horrors of communal violence but also underscored the importance of seeking justice for the victims. In the Supreme Court’s observations during the hearing in September 2023, it was emphasized that discussions should focus not only on the release of the convicts but also on the severity of the case’s brutality.
The apex court’s stance reinforced the principle that in cases of heinous crimes, the focus should not solely be on the release of the convicts but on the severity of the crimes committed. This case serves as a stark reminder of the need for rigorous legal scrutiny and societal introspection to prevent such atrocities in the future.