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  • Soram Agrawal

Bilkis Bano Case: Why this case is again in controversy? 


Soram Agrawal,

Government Law College Indore

Introduction: - 

The case Bilkis Yakub Rasool vs. Union of India1happened in the days following the Godhra riots in 2002. This occurred following the Sabarmati massacre, in which around 60 Hindus were slain. They were on board the Sabarmati train. They were on a religious pilgrimage. When the train was in the Godhra area, it was set on fire. Hindu mobs went on a rampage in response to the tragedy. They blamed Muslims for the event. They assaulted all the Muslims who lived there and in the surrounding areas. The victim in this instance was a Muslim woman called Bilkis Bano. She was gang-raped while attempting to leave with her family members. At the time of the rape she was five months pregnant. The savage mob not only raped her but also slaughtered practically all her family members. In 2022, 11 inmates were granted a 'Special Remission' for their 14-year term in jail, marking 75 years of independence. However, victim Bilkis Bano filed a petition to prevent their premature release, sparking widespread outrage in India. This article will go over each stage of the case in detail, including the conviction for rape, the grant of remission, and the question of the convict's eligibility to practice law.  

Background of the case: - The Bilkis Bano case occurred during a communal riot in

Gujarat on March 3, 2002. The victim, Bilkis Bano, was terrified of being caught in such a predicament and ran with her family to escape. They were apprehended by Hindus and gangraped her and other women in her household. At the time, she was 21 years old and five months pregnant2. The incident led to widespread criticism and highlighted the increasing crimes against women in India. Bilkis Bano was unconscious for over three hours after the incident and reported it to the police. She was aided by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Supreme Court, which requested a CBI investigation. The NHRC played a

crucial role in assisting the victim, with former Chief Justice of India J. S. Verma visiting her at a relief camp. The NHRC appointed a senior attorney and former Solicitor General to represent her before the Supreme Court. The accused were arrested and brought before the Gujarat High Court within a month. Bano addressed the Supreme Court about the death threats she was receiving, leading to the Supreme Court transferring the case from Gujarat to Maharashtra for a fair and impartial inquiry.

“Analyzing Legal Precedence: Uncovering the Case Through Chronological Timelines”: - 

❖  February 28, 2002: Bilkis and family flee from Randhikpur after riots broke out following the Godhra train burning a day earlier.

❖  March 3, 2002: Bilkis, five months pregnant, was raped and 14 of her family members killed by a mob.

❖  March 4, 2002: Bilkis was brought to the Limkheda police station, and a FIR was filed. However, the FIR did not specify that she had been raped, and while she had named twelve people who lived in Randhikpur, the accused remained anonymous.

❖  March 5, 2002: Bilkis taken to Godhra Relief Camp, where her statement is recorded by the executive magistrate on instructions from then Panchmahal collector Jayanti Ravi.

Seven bodies of her family members were found in the jungle of Kesharpur.

After this Police in their response released a report starting that: - 

❖  November 6, 2002: Police submits summary report 'A' stating that the case was true but undetected and the culprits were not found. Requests for closure of the case. However, the court does not accept closure report and directs it to continue investigation. 

❖  February 2003: Limkheda Police resubmits summary report 'A' requesting for closure of case, which is accepted by the court. 

❖  April 2003: Bilkis approaches the Supreme Court praying that the Magistrate's order accepting ‘A' summary be set aside. She seeks CBI investigation. 

❖  December 6, 2003: Supreme Court orders transfer of investigation to CBI. 

  January 1, 2004: CBI DSP KN Sinha takes charge of the investigation from Gujarat Police. 

❖  February 1-2, 2004: Skulls missing from bodies excavated for CBI inquiry; 109 bones discovered. Later, in its ruling, Bombay High Court noted that "it appears that at some point the heads were cut off."  

❖  April 19, 2004: CBI files charge sheet before CJM Ahmedabad against 20 accused, including six police officers and two doctors who performed the post-mortem on the seven bodies on March 5, 2002. 

Case shifts to Mumbai: -

❖  August 2004: SC moves trial of the case from Gujarat to Mumbai and directs the Central Government to appoint a special public prosecutor.

❖  January 21, 2008: Verdict rendered in Greater Mumbai by the Special Judge. Eleven people were found guilty of murder and rape and given life sentences; seven others were found not guilty; two died during the trial.[i].

❖  Year 2009-2011: - Appeals filed by accused convicts as well as CBI.CBI seeks enhancement of the sentence for Jaswantbhai Chaturbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Shailesh Chimanlal Bhatta to death sentence. CBI also appeals against acquittal of eight others under Section 217 and 218 IPC (of which one expired during pendency of trial). 

2016: Bombay HC Hearing appeals:-

❖ May 2017: The Bombay High Court upholds the trial court's conviction of the 11 people for life imprisonment, declines to increase the sentence, and also overturns the acquittal of seven people—two doctors and five police officers who were found guilty under Sections 201 and 218 of the IPC and sentenced to a period of imprisonment and fine. According to Sections 302 and 376(2) Indian Penal Code, 1860.[ii], which are to be read in conjunction with Section 149, they were found guilty.  

Appeals in Supreme Court:- 

❖  July 2017: SC dismisses appeals by two doctors and four policemen against the Bombay HC conviction. One police man did not appeal. 

❖  April 23, 2019: In a 2017 compensation case, the Supreme Court orders the state government to provide Bano with a job and government housing in a place of her choosing, as well as a 50-lakh settlement. In April 2019, she voted for the first time in Dahod after 17 years.[iii] 

  May 30, 2019: Bhagora dismissed by the Union Home Ministry a day before his retirement, which means he won't get retirement benefits of a government employee.

❖  May 2022: In his appeal, Convict Radheshyam Shah challenges an order from the Gujarat High Court dated July 17, 2019, which decided that Maharashtra would be the "appropriate government" to decide on his request for remission. Shah argues that he has served 15 years and 4 months of the life sentence that was granted to him by a CBI court in Mumbai in 2008.

❖  May 13, 2022: Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath, sitting as a bench, request that the Gujarat government grant Shah's request for an early release "within a period of two months," in accordance with the state's then-current policy. 

❖  August 15, 2022: 11 convicts released from Godhra sub-jail on remission by Gujarat government, including Radhyeshyam Shah.

❖  September, 2022: Bilkis Bano approaches the Supreme Court in a writ petition challenging the premature release of the 11 convicts.

  January 8, 2024: Supreme Court quashes Gujarat government's decision to grant remission to 11 convicts[iv].

Why supreme court has quashed? 

❖  A bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan held that Bilkis Bano's appeal to challenge the remission was maintainable, stating that the Gujarat government was not the proper government to issue the remission decision because the trial was conducted in Maharashtra[v].

❖  Gujarat government should have filed a plea seeking review of the 2022 order stating they aren't the competent government.

❖  The Supreme Court declared that the exemption order was incompetent. The state in which a criminal case is being prosecuted is the only entity that may release the accused.

❖  The Supreme Court said, "The rule of law must be preserved unmindful of the ripples consequences."

❖  The court emphasized the importance of respecting women and their rights, stating, "A woman should be treated with respect, regardless of her social status, religious beliefs, or  

affiliations." Can terrible atrocities against women be forgiven? These are the points raised, according to Justice Nagarathna.

❖  The Supreme Court came down heavily against its own judgment in May 2022, delivered by Justice Ajay Rastogi (retired), which allowed the convicts to appeal for their early remission before the Gujarat government.

❖  The bench said that Supreme Court order dated May 2022 was obtained through fraudulent means and suspension of facts.

❖  One of the convicts requested that the state of Gujarat consider remission by concealing important information and fabricating facts. The Gujarati government was not instructed by this court to take remission into consideration. Said, this is an act of deception.[vi] 

❖  While hearing the matter in September last year, the top court had asked whether convicts have a fundamental right to seek remission.

❖  During the earlier arguments, the court had observed that the State government should not be selective in granting remission to convicts and the opportunity to reform and reintegrate with society should extend to every prisoner.

Current status of the review petition: -

 The Gujarat government was chastised by the Supreme Court of India for prematurely releasing 11 prisoners in a remission case. The court highlighted the government's responsibility to grasp the seriousness of a case before releasing inmates. The court questioned the government's obligation to use authority for the benefit of the citizens of the state, comparing the death of 14 vulnerable family members to the murder of a single person. The Gujarat government and the Centre filed a review appeal on March 27, 2023, in response to the ruling. However, the bench vehemently opposed and rejected the plan. The Supreme Court granted the administration time to consider whether to file the petition and sought for a time extension of parole granted to inmates serving life sentences. The court further stated that the jurisdiction of the State Government to award remission could not be altered by judicial review unless granted arbitrarily by the government[vii].

Conclusion: - 

Crimes against women are on the rise in India. The story of Bilkis Bano is another example of males expressing their rage by raping women who were not involved in the

Sabarmati slaughter. This tragedy sparked an uproar against crimes against women in this country, such as rape and murder. This case demonstrated how Indian courts failed to deliver justice to these innocent people. The Gujarat government's decision to release the rapists and murderers on Independence Day was criticized. The Gujarat government plans to release them on August 15, 2022. When the inmates requested early release, the 1992 remission policy was applied rather than the 2014 regulation, and they were acquitted. The Supreme Court of India, which ordered the Gujarat High Court to free the prisoners, was also chastised by members of other social groups. Our country's legal system is biased in favor of criminals over innocent victims. The prisoners were released as a result of the establishment of the remission program in 1992. Despite the fact that Gujarat enacted new rules for the remission program in 2014, they were not followed for the inmates in the Bilkis Bano case. As a result, a writ was issued under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, concluded that it would not apply in this instance. As a result, the previous remission policy favored those rape suspects, and Bilkis Bano lost the fight.

References: - 

[iii] Times Of India, SC directs Gujarat govt to give Rs 50 lakh compensation, job, accommodation to Bilkis Bano | India News - Times of India, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Apr. 23, 2019), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/scdirects-gujarat-govt-to-give-rs-50-lakh-compensation-job-accommodation-to-bilkisbano/articleshow/69005866.cms. 

[iv] Bilkis Bano case | Supreme Court quashes early release of 11 lifers, THE

[v] Awstika Das, Supreme Court Summarises Factors For Deciding Remission Applications, SUPREME COURT

NEWS, LATEST INDIA LEGAL NEWS, SUPREME COURT UPDATES, HIGH COURTS UPDATES, JUDGMENTS, LAW FIRMS NEWS, LAW SCHOOL NEWS, LATEST LEGAL NEWS (Jan. 9, 2024), https://www.livelaw.in/topstories/supreme-court-bilkis-bano-factors-remission-orders-premature-release-246203. 

[vi] 'Peace will be reduced to chimera if convicts...': 10 Bilkis case verdict quotes, INDIA

[vii] Bilkis Bano case - iPleaders, IPLEADERS, https://blog.ipleaders.in/bilkis-bano-case/#Introduction (last visited Jan. 14, 2024). 

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