The premature release of the 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and killing of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots, was opposed by a Special Judge and the prosecuting agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation. This was revealed today in the affidavit filed by the Gujarat government in the Supreme Court, which had asked the state for the entire records. The top court is hearing three petitions challenging the release of the men, which happened with swift concurrence of the Central government.
The documents revealed that in March 2021, Special Judge Anand L Yawalkar wrote to the Superintendent of the Godhra sub-jail on the "common opinion on premature release (of the convicts)", saying it would be the laws of Maharashtra and not Gujarat that would be applicable to the convicts, since the case was heard there.
"In this case all convicted accused were found guilty for rape and murder of innocent people. That the accused had no enmity or any relation with the victim. The crime was committed only on the ground that the victims belongs to a particular religion. In this case even minor children and pregnant woman were not spared. This is worst form of hate crime and crime against the humanity. It affects the conscious of society. Aggrieved of this crime is society at large (sic)," the judge further wrote.
When a case falls under multiple categories, the "highest imprisonment has to be considered", he said.
The CBI said the crime committed by the accused was "heinous, grave and serious" and so the "accused cannot be released prematurely and no leniency can be given to him".
In an interview to NDTV, the special court judge who convicted the men, had said the decision for remission should be reconsidered.
"The government has the power to give remission, but it should think about every factor before giving any decision, or else it isn't right. I don't know if they went through the procedure or not," said Justice UD Salvi, who retired as a judge of the Bombay High Court.
"Did they ask the judge under whom the case was heard? I can tell you that I heard nothing regarding this... In such cases, the state government needs to take advice from the central government as well. Did they do that? I have no idea. If they did, what did the central government say?" he had said.
In January 2008, the Special Court in Mumbai had sentenced the 11 men to life imprisonment. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
The rapists walked free this year as the nation celebrated 75 years of Independence, after a committee of the Gujarat government unanimously agreed to their release under an outdated remission policy of the state. The release happened with the Centre's approval, sent shortly after the Gujarat government's proposal.
The bulk remission came in response to petition from one of the convicts. The Supreme Court, where the petition was filed, had passed the matter to the state government.
The release had created a furore, with opposition barbs directed at the BJP government in Gujarat.
Now, the Supreme Court is hearing three petitions from CPM Politburo member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and one other person challenging the release.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old when she saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her daughter, who was just three years old. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared "missing". The woman, five months' pregnant, was then gang-raped.
Days after the convicts' release, Bilkis Bano said it has "shaken" her faith in the justice system and left her "shocked" and "numb".