Supreme Court begins hearing Bilkis Bano against the premature release of 11 convicts

NEW DELHI : The convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case and murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots chased her with a “blood thirsty approach” to hunt Muslims and kill them, the Supreme Court was told on Monday.

Commencing arguments on the plea challenging the remission granted last year to all the 11 convicts, advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for Bilkis Bano, submitted she was brutally gang-raped while she was pregnant and her first child was smashed with a rock to death, reports PTI.

“She kept pleading that she is like a sister to them as she knew all of them. They were from around the area…It was not a spur of the moment incident. The convicts were chasing Bilkis with a blood thirsty approach to hunt Muslims and kill them. They raised slogans- these are Muslims, kill them. The high court has taken note that the crime committed by them was rare, uncommon and driven by communal hatred,” Gupta told a bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan.

The lawyer told the court the convicts were released on August 15, 2022 following remission of sentence and Bilkis came to know about it when she saw the celebrations outside the jail as they came out.

Opposing the remission granted to the convicts, Gupta said the CBI had opposed the premature release of the convicts saying a wrong message will go out to the society at large as the crime is of such a nature that it cannot be pardoned.

The hearing will resume on Tuesday.

The top court had fixed August 7 for the start of the final hearing on a batch of pleas challenging the remission granted last year to all the 11 convicts in the case.

On May 9, the top court had directed the publication of notices in local newspapers, including in Gujarati and English, against the convicts who could not be served notices.

The top court had on May 2 deferred the hearing after some of the counsel for the convicts raised objections about not being served notices on the pleas challenging the remission granted to them.

The Centre and the Gujarat government had told the court they were not filing any plea for a review of the court’s March 27 order asking for production of the original records with regard to the remission granted to the convicts.

The Gujarat government had raised preliminary objections with regard to the petitions filed in the matter other than the one by Bilkis Bano, saying it will have wide ramifications as every now and then third parties will approach courts in criminal cases.

The top court had on April 18 questioned the Gujarat government over the remission granted to the 11 convicts, saying the gravity of the offense should have been considered before showing leniency, and wondered if there was any application of mind.

Asking for reasons for the premature release of the convicts, the top court had also questioned frequent parole granted to them during their incarceration.

“It (remission) is a kind of grace, which should be proportional to the crime,” it had said.

Terming Bilkis Bano’s gang-rape and the murder of her family members a “horrendous” act, the apex court had on March 27 asked the Gujarat government whether uniform standards, as followed in other murder cases, were applied while granting remission to the convicts.

Besides Bilkis Bano’s petition, several other PILs including one by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, independent journalist Revati Laul, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma have challenged the remission. Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra has also filed a PIL against the remission.

Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the horror of the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train-burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed in the riots. ( With PTI inputs )

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