Bilkis Bano case: activists challenge SC against the surrender of convicts

A group of women activists have gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the reduced sentences given to 11 people who were convicted of the murder of 14 people and the gang rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 riots in Gujarat.

The high court agreed on Tuesday to consider their request for an urgent hearing. Activists who filed the plea included Subhashini Ali, Revati Laul, Roop Rekha Verma and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.

Lead Attorney Kapil Sibal referred the matter for an urgent hearing before a bench presided over by Chief Justice NV Ramana.

Read also | Convicts in Bilkis Bano case granted frequent parole, witnesses threatened: report

He said the petition challenged the surrender order in the event a pregnant woman was raped and people were killed.

The bench investigated whether the postponement was granted pursuant to the higher court order.

To that, Sibal said the supreme court simply ordered the state to review the matter, and they are challenging the remission, not the higher court’s order.

Read also | Bilkis case: Three Muslim MPs call on President to revoke Gujarat’s decision to release 11 convicts

The bench said it would review the documents and decide, as the attorney insisted on releasing the case for review on Wednesday.

The plea in the highest court claimed that the state government had mechanically granted the “bulk” release of 11 convicts without examining each individual case on the merits, as required by the Maru Ram (1980) case.

Bilkis Bano, who was pregnant at the time, was gang-raped and her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 people killed by a mob in 2002 in Dahod in Gujarat when violence broke out across the state after the Sabarmati Express was attacked at Godhra and 59 passengers, mostly ‘kar sewaks’, were burned to death.

Read also | Was numbed for two days, says Bilkis Bano at rapists’ release

Eleven convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment, were released from Godhra prison on August 15 after the Gujarat government authorized their release under its remission policy. The convicts had served more than 15 years in prison.

Notably, acting on a plea by one of the convicts Radheshyam Bhagwandas alias Lala Vakil, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ajay Rastogi had on May 13, 2022 ordered the government of Gujarat to make a decision within two months on a request for pre-maturity Release.

In January 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai sentenced the convicts to life imprisonment for the gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. The Bombay High Court upheld their conviction.