When the Post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat broke out, Bilkis Bano, then 21 years old and five months pregnant, attempted to flee with her family when she was brutally gang-raped. According to Bilkis Bano, the mob that attacked the group killed her three-year-old daughter Saleha and 14 other members of her family.
Following the burning of the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra on February 27, 2002, violence erupted in Gujarat amid an already tense social climate. A mob set fire to one of the coaches carrying many “kar-sevaks” of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as it was traveling from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad, causing fifty-nine people to perish (VHP).
Author Harsh Mander describes the horror in his book, “Between Memory and Forgetting: Massacre and the Modi Years in Gujarat.” The family was traveling in a truck to a village when a group of 20 to 30 people attacked them before they could get there. The men took the three-year-old away from Bilkis and struck her in the head with a rock. Three men, all from her village and people she knew, took turns raping a pregnant Bilkis after learning that her daughter had died.
The author writes, “In the chaos around her, the 14 members of her family were raped, molested, and hack to death by the mob.” They left her naked and unclothed after assuming she was dead. Bilkis Bano, however, survived to recount the horror.
What evidence did the CBI uncover in the Bilkis Bano Case?
The CBI came to the conclusion that the post-mortem investigation was poorly done in order to defend the accused. None of the seven bodies exhumed by CBI investigators had skulls, according to their report on the attack’s victims.
The CBI claims that after the autopsy, the heads of the corpses were severed, making it impossible to identify the bodies.
What Happened During the Trial?
After Bilkis Bano received threats against her life, the trial was transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra. Charges against 19 men, including six police officers and a government physician, were brought before the Mumbai court.
A special court found 11 defendants guilty in January 2008 of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder, unlawful assembly, and other charges under various Indian Penal Code sections. In order to protect the accused, the Head Constable was found guilty of “making incorrect records.”
The court dismissed seven cases due to a lack of evidence. During the trial, one person passed away.
According to the court, Bilkis was sexually assaulted by Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya (deceased), and her daughter Saleha was killed by Shailesh Bhatt by “smashing” her to the ground.
Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Vohania, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana, and Head Constable Somabhai Gori are some of the other defendants who have been found guilty.
These accused were found guilty of rape and murder despite being witnesses to the crime (with the exception of Gori), the court observing that being a part of “an unlawful assembly” distributes the liability of the crime.
The court gave life sentences to all 11 of the defendants.
What is the Bilkis Bano case’s Remission Controversy About?
Remission is the process of condensing a sentence without altering its meaning. As the SC noted in the case of State of Haryana v. Mahender Singh, it is not a right but rather based on executive discretion. Remission is a system of “rules for the time being in force regulating the award of marks to, and the consequent shortening of sentences of, prisoners in jail,” according to the Prison Act of 1894. It is the result of the State’s efforts to protect human rights and reform the criminal justice system.
In accordance with the law, there are three different types of remissions: statutory, constitutional, and those obtained in accordance with jail manuals. In contrast to Article 72 of the Constitution, which grants the President the authority to grant remission, Article 161 grants the Governor the same authority.
Meanwhile, guidelines for the State government’s ability to suspend or remit sentences are established by Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). According to the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, prison is a topic, and state governments are responsible for managing and running jails.
The “appropriate government” has the authority to suspend or reduce a prisoner’s sentence under Section 432. However, Section 433A, which deals with the ability to commute sentences, stipulates that for two categories of life convicts—those found guilty of crimes carrying a death penalty and those whose death sentences were commuted to life in prison—a prisoner cannot be released before serving 14 years of their term.
According to Section 435, the States must occasionally consult with the federal government before taking any action. These cases include those looked into by the Delhi Special Police Establishment or by any other organization that looked into an offense committed in violation of a Central Act other than the CrPC.
The appropriate authority “may” also consult the presiding judge of the court where the sentence was handed down before making a decision on the remission plea. According to the Supreme Court’s decision in D. Krishna Kumar v. State of Telangana, whenever a request is made for the suspension or remission of a sentence, “the appropriate government may require the presiding judge of the court before or by which the conviction was had or confirmed, to state his opinion as to whether the request should be granted or refused, together with his reasons for such opinion.”
Regarding the Bilkis Bano Case
The Gujarat government’s decision not only caused public outrage because it allowed rapists and murderers to walk free, but experts also called attention to contradictions in the remission policies that allowed this to happen.
The State government claimed that in making its decision to accept a remission plea, it had relied on a 1992 policy that doesn’t explicitly state what type of crime should be taken into account. A person convicted of both gang rape and murder cannot, however, be released early under the 2014 standards. Their release would not have been feasible, according to advocate Mihir Joshi, who was quoted by news agency PTI as saying, “Had the government been asked to consider their pleas in accordance with the current remission policy.”
Officials in Gujarat maintain that the release of prisoners followed the established protocol. The Opposition, however, asserted that the remission was given in defiance of the Center’s most recent remission guidelines. According to a recent communication from the MHA, certain categories of prisoners should receive special remissions in honor of the nation’s 75th anniversary of independence. According to the guidelines, 12 categories of prisoners, including “prisoners convicted for the offense of rape,” were not eligible for special remission.
Raj Kumar, Gujarat’s Additional Chief Secretary (Home), defended the state’s decision by arguing that the guidelines did not apply in the Bilkis Bano case because the Supreme Court had ordered the State to consider the 1992 policy. He further revealed to The Indian Express that the prisoners’ remission was determined by taking into account their “age, nature of the crime, and behavior in prison.”
There have also been inquiries into whether, as required by Section 435 of the CrPC, the Gujarat government moved to grant remission without first consulting the Center. However, the Centre hasn’t yet made it clear what it thinks about the situation.