New Delhi: The hearing on Bilkis Bano’s plea challenging the remission of sentence of 11 convicts in the gang-rape case by the Gujarat government, could not be held in the Supreme Court on Tuesday as the judges concerned were hearing a matter related to passive euthanasia as part of a five-judge Constitution bench.
The petition of Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped and seven members of her family slaughtered during the 2002 Gujarat riots, was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday by a bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and CT Ravikumar.
However, Justices Rastogi and Ravikumar were busy hearing, as part of a Constitution bench headed by Justice K M Joseph, the pleas seeking modification of guidelines on execution of a “Living Will or Advance Medical Directive” for permitting passive euthanasia.
A fresh date for hearing will now be notified by the apex court registry..
Bilkis Bano had moved the apex court on November 30, 2022 challenging the grant of remission of sentence to 11 convicts by the state government, saying their premature release has “shaken the conscience of society”.
Besides the plea challenging the release of the convicts, the gang-rape survivor had also filed a separate petition seeking a review of the apex court’s May 13, 2022 order on a plea by a convict.
In its May 13, 2021 order, the apex court had asked the state government to consider the plea of a convict for premature release in terms of its policy of July 9, 1992 which was applicable on the date of conviction and decide it within a period of two months.
All the 11 convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released on August 15 last year.
Her review plea, however, was dismissed by the top court in December last year.
The victim, in her pending plea, said the state government passed a “mechanical order” completely ignoring the requirement of law as laid down by the Supreme Court.
“The enmasse premature release of the convicts in the much talked about case of Bilkis Bano, has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” she said in the plea.
Referring to past verdicts, the plea said enmasse remissions are not permissible and, moreover, such a relief cannot be sought or granted as a matter of right without examining the case of each convict individually based on their peculiar facts and role played by them in the crime.
“The present writ petition challenging the decision of the State/ Central Government granting remission to all the 11 convicts and releasing them prematurely in one of the most gruesome crimes of extreme inhuman violence and brutality by a group of human beings upon another group of human beings, all helpless and innocent people – most of them were either women or minors, by chasing them for days together persuaded by hate towards a particular community,” it said.
The plea, which gave minute details of the crime, said Bilkis and her grown up daughters were “shell-shocked with this sudden development”.
The decision of the government came as a shock to the citizens, nationally and internationally, and the society across segments showed “anger, disappointment, distrust” and protested the clemency shown by the government.
“When the nation was celebrating its 76th Independence Day, all the convicts were released prematurely and were garlanded and felicitated in full public glare and sweets were circulated and this is how the present petitioner along with the entire nation and the whole world came to know about the shocking news of premature release of all the convicts (respondents no. 3-13) of one of the most gruesome crime this country has ever seen of multiple time gang rape of a pregnant woman,” it said.
It referred to wide-virtual public protest in each city, on all social media platforms and news channels, portals.
“It was also reported heavily that Muslims of the area started fleeing away from Rahimabad in fear after release of these 11 convicts,” the plea said.
The top court is already seized of PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, Revati Laul, an independent journalist, Roop Rekha Verma, who is a former vice chancellor of the Lucknow University, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.
The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra court by the Supreme Court.
A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008 sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang-rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven members of her family.
Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
The 11 men convicted in the case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.