The Supreme Court is set to hear a batch of pleas on Monday challenging the release of 11 convicts who were involved in the gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat. The state government granted remission to the convicts on August 10, 2022, following which they were released on August 15, 2022.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna will hear the case on March 27. Earlier, on March 22, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said he would constitute a bench to hear the pleas. This was in response to a request from advocate Shobha Gupta, who was appearing for Bano, to have the case listed for an early hearing.
Bano had filed a review petition seeking a review of the court’s earlier order, which had asked the Gujarat government to consider the plea for the remission of one of the convicts. However, the review petition was dismissed. Additionally, some PILs were filed seeking directions to revoke the remission granted to the 11 convicts. The PILs were filed by the National Federation of Indian Women, Subhashini Ali of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), journalist Revati Laul, social activist and professor Roop Rekha Verma, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra.
The Gujarat government defended its decision to grant remission to the convicts, stating that they had completed 14 years of their sentence and their behavior had been found to be good. The government had also stated that it had considered the cases of all 11 convicts as per the policy of 1992, and the Central government had approved the pre-mature release of the convicts. The government further stated that the remission was not granted under the circular governing grant of remission to prisoners as part of the celebration of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav“.
The government had questioned the PILs’ locus standi, stating that the petitioners were outsiders to the case. However, the pleas had stated that they had challenged the order of the competent authority of the government of Gujarat, which had allowed 11 persons accused in a set of heinous offenses committed in Gujarat to walk free on August 15, 2022, pursuant to the extension of remission. The pleas argued that the remission in this case would be entirely against public interest, would shock the collective public conscience, and would be entirely against the interests of the victim, whose family had publicly expressed concern for her safety.
The 11 life-term convicts in the case were released as per the remission policy prevalent in Gujarat at the time of their conviction in 2008. In March 2002, during the post-Godhra riots, Bano was gang-raped and left to die with 14 members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. She was five months pregnant when rioters attacked her family in Vadodara.