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Bilkis Bano gangrape case – Bombay HC reserves order

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has reserved its order on appeals filed by 11 convicts against life sentence awarded to them by the trial court in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape case.

The high court also reserved order on an appeal filed by the CBI, seeking death penalty for three convicts on the ground that this was the ‘rarest of the rare’ case.

The bench of justices Vijaya Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar reserved the order recently after conducting a day-to- day hearing on both the appeals since July.

Eleven convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2008 for raping Bilkis and killing her family members in the aftermath of the Godhra riots, had filed appeals in the high court challenging their conviction.

The CBI had also moved the high court, seeking death penalty for three of them.

CBI counsel Hiten Venegaonkar sought death penalty for three convicts arguing that it was a case of a “mass murder” as 14 members of a family, including a three-day-old child, were killed.

The CBI lawyer argued that there was an “exodus” of people due to riots and while Bilkis and her family had been on the run, she was gangraped and her kin were murdered.

“Therefore, the case fell in the rarest of rare category, for which maximum punishment should be awarded,” Venegaonkar submitted.

Harshad Ponda, the lawyer defending the convicts, questioned the “chronology of events narrated by Bilkis, the FIR registered by Gujarat Police and the photographs of the bodies and other evidence collected from the spot”.

He alleged the evidence had been fabricated by the CBI.

In January 2008, a Mumbai court had held the 11 convicts – Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana – guilty of murder and gangrape among other charges. All of them were awarded life imprisonment.

It was the case of the prosecution that in March 2002, Bilkis’ family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village, 250 km from Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Bilkis, who was 19 years old at the time and five months pregnant, was gangraped by the convicts. Fourteen members of her family were killed.

The Supreme Court had ordered a re-trial of the case in Mumbai.