A day after all 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for the Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder of seven members of her family in the 2002 Gujarat riots walked free, videos of relatives feeding them sweets and touching their feet have emerged.
After the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, the 11 men walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on Monday, having served 15 years. Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea paved the way for the release of all 11 men, told news agency PTI, “I feel glad to be out as I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life.”
Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul did not want to comment on the release. “We were not told about this… All we want to do is pray for peace of the souls of our near and dear ones we lost their lives in the riots. Everyday we remember those who were killed in the incident, including our daughter.”
Human rights lawyer Shamshad Pathan said on Monday night that a large number of convicts who have committed less heinous crimes continue to be in jails without any remission.
These 11 men were sentenced in 2008 by a special court in Mumbai, and the conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. After one of them approached the Supreme Court, it directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue as that’s where the crime was committed. The government formed a committee which took a unanimous decision in favour of remission.
Rights lawyer Pathan has said that when a government takes such a decision, “the hope of the victim in the system diminishes”.
In the violence that erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘kar sevaks’ on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five-month pregnant at that time, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others.
On March 3, they were hiding in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them. Bilkis Bano was raped, while seven members of her family were killed. Six other members managed to run away.
Given the outrage over the incident, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe. The accused were arrested in 2004.
The trial began in Ahmedabad.
However, after Bilkis Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004. The special CBI court on January 21, 2008, convicted 11 men on charges of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under the Indian Penal Code.
Seven other accused were acquitted for want of evidence; one died during the trial.
In its 2018 order upholding the conviction of the accused persons, the High Court set aside the acquittal of those seven persons too.
Further, the Supreme Court in 2019 directed the Gujarat government to give Rs 50 lakh as compensation, a job, and a house to Bilkis Bano.
The 11 convicts granted premature release include Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana, besides Radheshyam Shah.