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PoliticsIndiaGujarat government explains to SC why rapists of Bilkis Bano were released

Gujarat government explains to SC why rapists of Bilkis Bano were released

The Gujarat government today filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, which had asked it to explain its decision to grant remission to the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case. The BJP-led government said the remission had been granted after the convicts completed 14 years in prison and their "behaviour was found to be good".

The Supreme Court is hearing three petitions from CPI(M) politburo member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and one other person challenging the release of the men.

One of the petitioners contended that the case was investigated by the CBI, and so, the grant of remission solely by the Gujarat government without any consultation with the Central government is "impermissible" in terms of the mandate of Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The court had asked the Gujarat government to file the entire record of the proceedings in the Bilkis Bano case, including the remission order given to the convicts.

The 11 rape and murder convicts had walked free on 15 August, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about women empowerment from the ramparts of the Red Fort as part of his Independence Day speech. Days later, Bilkis Bano urged the Gujarat government to “undo the harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in ”.

A bunch of rioters had raped Bilkis Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time and killed seven of her members, including her daughter, during the riots that had engulfed Gujarat in 2002 after a Muslim gang set on fire coaches of the Sabarmati Express train, roasting alive nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims inside. 

The convicts in the rape case were serving a life in the Godhra sub-jail. On 3 March 2002, a mob attacked Bilkis Bano and her at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod. They raped a pregnant Bilkis Bano and killed seven members of her family. A special CBI court in Mumbai sentenced to life imprisonment 11 of the accused in the case of murder and gang rape on 21 January 2008.

The Bombay High Court subsequently upheld their conviction. The convicts served more than 15 years in prison, after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The Gujarat government later issued an order to release all the 11 convicts, as per its remission policy, following which they walked out of the on 15 August.

Critics questioned whether the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had given clearance for the release, given that the current laws in both the union and the state have restrictions on the premature release of those convicted of rape or sentenced to life imprisonment. However, while such releases need the approval of the MHA, the state had not clarified how it bypassed the union government, leaving it a grey area.

This clause was not present in Gujarat's 1992 remission policy, on the basis of which an advisory committee had recommended the release of men.

Today, the Gujarat government filed an affidavit in the top court, saying the MHA had approved the premature release through a letter dated 11.07.2022. The letter from the ministry said it gives concurrence or approval of the union government "under Section 435 of CrPc for the premature release…"

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