The premature release of 11 men convicted for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and killing of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots, was approved by the Union home ministry, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court today. The convicts walked free on Independence Day under an outdated remission policy of the state government, setting off a huge political controversy. While such releases need the approval of the Union Home Ministry, the state had not clarified about the clearance, leaving it a grey area.
Critics have questioned whether the Union home ministry had given clearance for the release, given that the current laws in both Centre and the state have restrictions on the premature release of those convicted of rape or sentenced to life imprisonment.
This clause was not present in Gujarat’s 1992 remission policy, on the basis of which an advisory committee had recommended the release of men.
Today, the Gujarat government filed an affidavit in the top court, saying the Union Home Ministry had approved the premature release through a letter dated 11.07.2022. The letter from the ministry, accessed by NDTV, said it gives “concurrence/approval of the Central government under section 435 of CrPc for the premature release…”
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 of the men.
One of the petitioners contended that the case was investigated by the CBI, and so, the grant of remission solely by the Gujarat government without any consultation with the Central government is “impermissible” in terms of the mandate of Section 435 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
The court had asked the Gujarat government to file the entire record of the proceedings in the Bilkis Bano case, including the remission order given to the convicts.
Seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family were murdered before her eyes — among them her three-year-old daughter, whose head was bashed with a rock. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared “missing”.
The woman, 21 years old and five months’ pregnant at the time, was then gang-raped. The family was attacked as they hid in the fields in Gujarat’s Dahod, as violence swept the state following the attack on Sabarmati Express, in which 59 ‘kar sevaks’ died.
The level of their atrocity had brought Bilkis Bano the highest-ever compensation in a rape case — a job, a house and Rs 50 lakh — awarded by the Supreme Court in 2019.
The convicts were sentenced to life term in jail by a special court in Mumbai, which was later upheld by the High Court.
Bilkis Bano has said she was not consulted or informed about the decision.
In its affidavit, the Gujarat government said the men were released as they had been in jail for 14 years and their behaviour was found to be good.
NDTV has found that five of the 10 members of the advisory committee of the Gujarat government, which recommended the release, have links with the BJP.
The opposition parties have strongly hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the move, which came within hours of his praise for “Nari Shakti” in his Independence Day speech, and said this is the “real face” of New India under the BJP.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of AIMIM, said the Gujarat government had released the convicts in violation of the guidelines of its own home ministry.