Uproar after Gujarat frees all 11 lifers in Bilkis Bano gangrape case

Relatives celebrating the relatives of the 11 accused. | Picture: NDTV

On January 21, 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai had sentenced all 11 accused to life imprisonment.

Muhammad Raafi | TwoCircles.net 

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NEW DELHI — As Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asked the people to take a pledge to stop disrespecting women, the state government panel in Gujarat approved the application for remission of eleven convicts serving life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case and were released from the Godhra sub-jail.

Mentioning the ‘Nari Shakti’, PM Modi, addressing the nation from the ramparts of Mughal-era Lal Qila (Red Fort) said that respect for women is an important pillar of India’s growth. “We need to support our ‘Nari Shakti’.”

Bilkis Yakoob Rasool alias Bilkis Banu, who was five months pregnant, was gang-raped by her neighbours and her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district.

Yaqoob Rasul, husband of Bilkis said the family was surprised to know from the media about the release of all 11 convicts accused of gang rape and murder of seven members of his family.

Rasul told news gathering agency PTI that he does not intend to comment on the latest development in the case.

“We had no knowledge about when they (convicts) processed their application and which judgement the state government took into consideration. We never received any kind of notice and were not told about this. There was no way we could have known about this in advance,” he said.

Although the Gujarat government paid the family a compensation of Rs 50 lakh as directed by the Supreme Court, the family is yet to get a job or house as directed by the Supreme Court.

“The family continues to live virtually in hiding without a fixed address,” Rasul said.

Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar told media that the application for remission was considered due to the “completion of 14 years” in jail and other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, behaviour in prison and so on”.

President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi lashed out at the Narendra Modi-led central government over the decision. Gujarat is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. He said that the 11 people are accused of a heinous crime and releasing them is akin to rubbing salt on the wounds of the survivors. “Is this PM Modi’s Amrit Utsav,” he asked addressing a press conference.

What example is being set by the PM, Owaisi asked. He said that the Supreme Court has asked to examine the case and not directed to set the convicts free.

Owaisi said that BJP is biased toward a particular religion. “And the bias is such that even brutal rape and hate crimes are forgivable,” he said. 

“Why shouldn’t Rubina Memon be also granted remission,” he questioned.

The Hyderabad MP opined that the remission of all the 11 people should be cancelled. “Speaking legally, the remission should be cancelled,” he said.

Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea for premature release paved the way for all the 11 life sentence convicts to walk out of jail, said he feels happy to be released.

“The Gujarat government has released us as per the order of the Supreme Court. I feel glad to be out as I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life.”

Shah had approached the Supreme Court for remission. The apex court directed the Gujarat government to take a decision, after which they were released.

Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) also slammed Prime Minister Modi after the Gujarat government allowed the release of all eleven convicts.

“PM Modi today made tall statements on Nari Samman to prohibit insult to the womenfolk… but hours later, the Gujarat government has allowed convicts of Bilkis Bano gang rape case to go scot-free… this is unfortunate that PM on one hand spoke something, diagonally opposite was being done by the Gujarat government… how will the BJP talk about women empowerment,” said RJD spokesperson Ejaz Ahmad.

The Supreme Court had ordered a CBI investigation in the case after Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In August 2004, the Supreme Court directed the trial to be transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bilkis alleged death threats from the accused.

On January 21, 2008, CBI special court judge UD Salvi convicted 13 accused, sentencing 11 to life imprisonment on the charge of gangrape and murder following an in-camera trial in Mumbai. In May 2017, the conviction was upheld by the Bombay High Court.

In 2019, the Supreme Court awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis — the first such order in a case related to the 2002 riots. “It is very apparent that what should not have happened has happened and the state has to give compensation,” the apex court bench of the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, had said.


Muhammad Raafi is a journalist based in New Delhi. He covers politics and human rights. He tweets at @MohammadRaafi