New Delhi: Bilkis Bano was a 21-year-old pregnant woman who was gang-raped and witnessed the murder of seven of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter, during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The riots erupted after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire by a Muslim mob in Godhra, killing 59 people.
Bano and her family were among the thousands of Muslims who fled their homes to escape the violence. They were attacked by a mob of Hindu men on March 3, 2002, near Randhikpur village in Dahod district. Bano was raped by 11 men, while her family members were hacked to death.
Conviction and Appeal
In 2008, a special court in Mumbai convicted 11 men of rape and murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. The court also convicted 12 others of lesser charges, and acquitted seven, including five policemen and two doctors, who were accused of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice.
The convicts appealed against their conviction in the Gujarat High Court, which upheld the life sentences of the 11 rapists but acquitted the 12 others in 2017. The high court also directed the Gujarat government to pay Bano a compensation of Rs 50 lakh, a government job, and a house.
The Gujarat government challenged the high court’s order in the Supreme Court and sought to reduce the compensation amount and the sentence of the convicts. The government also granted premature release to the convicts on the grounds of good conduct and completion of 14 years in jail.
Supreme Court’s Intervention
Bano also filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking enhanced punishment for the convicts and action against the policemen and doctors who were acquitted. She also opposed the premature release of the convicts and demanded their immediate arrest.
On January 8, 2024, the Supreme Court canceled the Gujarat government’s decision to prematurely release the convicts and ordered them to surrender within two weeks, i.e., by January 21. The court also issued notices to the Gujarat government and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Bano’s plea for enhanced punishment and action against the acquitted.
On January 19, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by the convicts to extend the deadline for surrender, saying that their reasons were not valid. Some of the convicts had cited their son’s marriage, leg surgery, elderly parents, and crop harvesting as reasons for seeking more time.
Surrender of Convicts
Following the Supreme Court’s order, all 11 convicts surrendered before the authorities at Godhra sub-jail in Panchmahal district of Gujarat on Sunday night, January 21. They arrived in two vehicles from Singwad village in Dahod district, where they were living after their release.
The convicts are Radheshyam Shah, Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Kesar Vohaniya, Baka Vohaniya, Raju Soni, Ramesh Chandna, Shailesh Bhatt, Bipin Joshi, Pradeep Modhiya, and Mitesh Bhatt. They were tracked by the local crime branch, and have been sent to jail after their surrender.
Local crime branch inspector N.L. Desai confirmed the surrender of the convicts and said that they would be transferred to another jail as per the court’s order.
Bano, who now lives in Mumbai with her husband and children, welcomed the surrender of the convicts and expressed hope that the Supreme Court will deliver justice to her. She said that she has been fighting for her rights for 22 years, and will not give up until the guilty are punished.
She also thanked the Supreme Court for its intervention and said that she has faith in the judiciary. She said that she wants the convicts to get the death penalty and the policemen and doctors who helped them to be prosecuted.
She also appealed to the government to provide security and rehabilitation to the survivors of the Gujarat riots and to ensure communal harmony in the country.