The release of all 11 convicts of life imprisonment for the 2002 post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder of seven members of her family seems to have brought the governments at the Centre and Gujarat — both of the BJP — at odds.
The governments seem to differ in their policies on how to treat rape convicts. In June this year, the central government proposed a special release policy for convicted prisoners and issued guidelines to states for the same. Notably, the guidelines clearly mention that rape convicts are among those who are not to be granted special release under this policy.
However, the Gujarat government followed its own guidelines as per the Supreme Court’s directions in May and released the convicts under its remission policy.
These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.
The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee, said Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the panel.
“A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release,” said Mayatra.
The Gujarat government’s decision appears to go against the Centre’s opposition to releasing rape convicts. Point 5(vi) stated on Page 4 of the guidelines of the Centre’s special policy, conveyed to the states, states that special remission not be granted to “prisoners convicted for the offence of rape, human trafficking and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956”.
In fact, Point 5(ii) on the same page states that special remission not to be granted to “persons convicted with sentence of life imprisonment”.
After the violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks ‘on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was 21 years old five-month pregnant at that time, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others.
On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them and Bilkis Bano was gang 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 in the case were arrested in 2004.
The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.
The special CBI court on January 21, 2008, sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family.
The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.
One of them, Radheshyam Shah, had approached the Gujarat High Court seeking remission of the sentence under sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.