The Supreme Court has dismissed one of two petitions filed by Gujarat riots victim Bilkis Bano against the release of 11 men who raped her and killed several of her family members during the 2002 communal violence.
In the dismissed request, she’d had asked the court to review its May 2022 order that told the Gujarat government to consider the convicts’ release plea. Her other case, which challenges the very grounds of the release, is not immediately affected by this decision, though.
A detailed order wasn’t yet available.
The 11 convicts serving life term walked out of jail on August 15 as they were granted premature release – on account of “good behaviour” – under a 1992 policy by Gujarat’s BJP government with a nod from the Union Home Ministry.
The latest policy says gangrape and murder convicts cannot be grated early release, but the Supreme Court had agreed with the argument that the 1992 policy, which had no such exception, applied to these men. That 1992 policy was, technically, in effect when the men were convicted in 2008.
Challenging this, Bilkis Bano had also argued that Gujarat was not the right state to take a decision as the trial was held in neighbouring Maharashtra. The trial had been moved to Mumbai on the Supreme Court’s instructions in 2004 after Ms Bano said a fair trial could not be held in Gujarat.
After the men had served about 15 years in jail, one of them went to court asking to be considered for premature release as per the policy for lifers. That contention reached the Supreme Court, which told the Gujarat government in May this year that these should be considered.
Less than three months later, the men walked free and have since settled back into their lives. One of them even campaigned for his daughter, who became a BJP MLA in this month’s elections that consolidated the party’s hold on power.
Ruling Gujarat for almost three decades now – PM Narendra Modi was the chief minister at the time of the 2002 riots – the BJP has defended the “policy” decision, with its leaders even hailing the men as “sanskari” (cultured) Brahmins. Its leaders were on the panel that recommended the release that was also approved by the Union Home Ministry headed by Amit Shah, who recently cited 2002 as the year when “we taught rioters a lesson”.
As for Ms Bano’s petition challenging the very decision of the Gujarat government, it was adjourned last week as one of the judges, Justice Bela Trivedi, withdrew from the case. She did not specify why.