• Tuesday, May 30, 2023


India’s top court hears Bilkis Bano rape convicts release: ‘Not overwhelmed by emotions…’

A woman holds a placard during a protest against the release of men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, in Mumbai on August 23, 2022. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

The Supreme Court of India on Monday (27) questioned whether the release of 11 convicted men in the Bilkis Bano case was done as per remission standards on other such cases and asked both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Delhi and in the western state of Gujarat to produce relevant documents on the next date of hearing. It also said that it would not be overwhelmed by emotions.

Justice KM Joseph, who was part of a two-judge special bench hearing the case, questioned, “We have before us many murder cases where convicts are languishing in jails for remission without years. Is this a case where standards have been applied uniformly as in other cases too?”

The bench featuring Justice Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna was set up to hear petitions that challenged the Gujarat government’s decision to release the 11 convicts on August 15, India’s Independence Day, last year. They were convicted in 2008 for the gangrape of Bano, a Muslim woman, and murder of a number of her family members during the 2002 riots in the state.

The release, which was made on the basis of an outdated policy, caused a massive outrage. Videos of the men being given a hero’s welcome went viral, fuelling the public anger. Bano’s family was also dismayed by the move.

In Monday’s hearing, the question of jurisdiction came up in a big way, with the lawyer representing Bano saying the state where the case was heard should have been asked to take the call, NDTV reported.

The hearing in the original case was shifted from Gujarat to neighbouring Maharashtra to ensure a fair trial.

Senior advocate Vrinda Grover — who was representing Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Subhasini Ali, journalist Revati Laul, and former vice-chancellor of the Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma — said both India’s Central Bureau of Investigation and the presiding judge of the trial court opposed the remission, the report added.

“Substantive sentence is on 14 counts of murder and three counts of gang-rape. 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 said.

The central government said the convicts have already served more than 15 years, when life term convicts are released after 14.

When the convicts’ counsel Rishi Malhotra said an “emotional plea is not a legal plea,” Justice Joseph said, “We are not going to be overwhelmed by emotions… have to strike balance… It is a horrendous crime”.

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