Bilkis Bano: How the nation let her down! 

A pregnant Bilkis Bano was gang raped while escaping the riots post the Godhra train burning incident. The three years old daughter of Bilkis was also killed among her many family members. Read the full article here to know more about the heart wrenching story of Bilkis Bano rape case.

Year 2002. A horrific event unfolded soon after the Sabarmati train was burnt down in Gujarat’s Godhra on 27th February of that year. Incidents of violence and riots took place soon after the train was burnt. A 21-year-old Bilkis Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time of the mishap, along with her three-year-old daughter and others, decided to escape the riot. While they were fleeing for their life, a mob of 20-30 men with swords and sticks attacked them. The events unleashed post this attack shook the entire nation. The pregnant Bilkis Bano was gang-raped, while her toddler was brutally killed, along with her seven other family members. The rest managed to escape! 

Soon after, the Supreme Court of India ordered a CBI investigation into the matter. In the year 2004, the accused were arrested and their trial began.  Later, the case was transferred to Mumbai, and finally, in the 2008, eleven accused were sentenced to lifetime imprisonment on charges of gang raping a pregnant woman.

The Accused of Bilkis Bano Released After 11 Years 

In the year 2017, the Bombay High Court upheld the conviction of the accused associated with the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case. One of the accused, Radheshyam Shah, approached the Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the CrPC. The Gujarat High Court rejected his plea on the grounds that Maharashtra, and not Gujarat, is the appropriate Government to take decisions on the remission of the sentence. 

Bilkis Bano Convicts
The 11 convicts —Radheshyam shah, Jaswant Chaturbhai Nai, Keshubhai Vadaniya, Bakabhai Vadaniya, Rajibhai Soni, Rameshbhai Chauhan, Shaileshbhai Bhatt, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Govindbhai Nai, Mitesh Bhatt, Pradip Modhiya— walked out of Godhra sub-jail on August 15, 2023.

Following this event, the Gujarat High Court freed the eleven men accused in the Bilkis Bano rape case in the year 2022. According to an official, the accused were in jail for 14 years, but were prematurely freed under the remission program. 

Bilkis Bano moved the Supreme Court following the rapist’s release

When Bilkis came to know that her rapists were freed prematurely by the Gujarat High Court, she pleaded with the Supreme Court for the reversal of their release. The brave Bilkis filed a review petition against the Supreme Court’s order, which allowed the Gujarat HC to take decisions on the remission of the accused! According to recent reports, The Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud will take a decision on these matters regarding the Bilkis Bano rape case. 

Defending it’s decision of premature release, the Gujarat Government said before the Supreme Court that the remission of the convicts was approved by the Union Home Ministry , under the 1992 policy which states that there is no bar in  premature release of rape convicts. 

According to the words of Raj Kumar, Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary – Home, “these 11 persons were convicted by a special court in Mumbai in 2008. At the time of conviction, Gujarat was following a remission policy, which came into effect in 1992. When the matter reached the Supreme Court, it directed us to decide on the release under the 1992 policy, because that was prevalent when the conviction came in 2008.”  Kumar further added that since the conviction unfolded itself in 2008, the SC ordered them to follow the 1992 remission policy in this case, and not the renewed policy that shared detailed guidelines of the category of convicts, who are eligible for remission. 

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

The Bilkis Bano Gang-rape case is a turning point in the history of mankind. It shows us how women are still ill-treated by the society. If we look back into the horrific incident, we will realize that even after Bilkis Bano filed a complaint, no proper investigation was conducted. To add to the crime, the medical examination of Bilkis was conducted several days later, which only added to the problem, as evidence of rape was lost by that time!  

The final blow  

The Supreme Court questioned the Gujarat Government to produce logical reasons to release the convicts prematurely. According to reports quoting Justice  K M Joseph, “the way the crime was committed was horrendous… A pregnant woman was gangraped and several people were killed. You cannot compare the victim’s case with standard Section 302 (murder) cases. Will you compare apples and oranges?” He further added that if the Gujarat Government fails to produce any reason for the premature release, the Supreme Court will draw it’s own conclusion.

The so-called ‘victims of politics’

The convicts  Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya were accused of gang raping Bilkis Bano, whereas, Shailesh Bhatt  was charged on grounds of murder of the three-year-old daughter of Bilkis. Others who were convicted were Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Vohania, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana, and Head Constable Somabhai Gori.

After their premature release, the convicts walked out of prison with pride and were welcomed with garlands. This incident shook the entire nation! Several women’s rights groups and associations , and women activists expressed anger and disappointment over this decision. 

But, to our utter surprise, when the convicts were asked about their untimely release, they told reporters that they were “victims of politics ! “. 

The case is grim reminder on what lies in store for the marginalised minorities. Convicted rapists walking free and being garlanded on their release, draws a bleak picture of a future that stares at the country, which once used to pride itself of being secular to the core.

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