The 11 men convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and killing her family were the subject of petitions heard by the special bench of Judge Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna.
The Supreme Court urged the Union and the Gujarat government to produce all pertinent papers on the next day of hearings and questioned whether the release of 11 prisoners in the Bilkis Bano case was done following remission norms in other cases of this nature. “We have many murder cases where convicts are languishing in jails without remission for years. Is this a case where standards have been applied uniformly as in other cases too?” Judge KM Joseph, one of the two judges on the court, was questioned.
The Gujarat government’s decision to release the 11 men on Independence Day of last year was challenged in some petitions, which were heard by the special bench of Judge Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna. For the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family in the Gujarat riots in 2002, the guys were found guilty in 2008.
After the top court instructed the state to decide on the appeal of a single convict, the release was made following an out-of-date policy after consulting a panel that included men connected to the BJP, which is currently in power.
The jurisdictional issue was a major topic of discussion in today’s hearing, with the lawyer for Bilkis Bano arguing that the state where the case was heard should have been given the call.
The hearing in the initial case was relocated from Gujarat to Maharashtra as it was felt that a fair trial would not be possible in a state which suffered a flood of violence in 2002 following the killing of 59 Kar Sevaks in the burning Sabarmati Express.
Senior attorney Vrinda Grover pointed out that the Central Bureau of Investigation and the trial court’s presiding judge opposed the remission while speaking on behalf of CPM politburo member Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, and former vice chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma.
Substantive sentence is on 14 counts of murder and three counts of gangrape. Fine of total 34,000 rupees and in default 34 years. It is undisputed that fine is not paid. So default sentence will come, that has not been served,” She also made a point.
When life sentence convicts are released after 14 years, the inmates argue that they have already served more than 15 years. Rishi Malhotra, their solicitor, claimed that an “emotional plea is not a legal plea,” Justice Joseph said, “We are not going to be overwhelmed by emotions… have to strike a balance… It is a horrendous crime”.
Some petitions opposing the 11 rapists’ release have been submitted. Bilkis Bano had submitted two petitions, one of which requested that the Supreme Court reconsider its May 2022 ruling ordering the Gujarat government to consider a prisoner’s request for parole. The court rejected this.
The Gujarat government released all the prisoners following the court’s directive and a single convict’s petition for parole. The panelists who made the decision defended it by referring to the men as “sanskara (cultured)” Brahmins who had already served 14 years in prison and had behaved well.