On Monday, in a major ruling, the Supreme Court quashed an order by the Gujarat government, granting remission to 11 convicts in the case of the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of seven members of her family during the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.
A bench comprising of Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan observed that the order for remission was without application of mind and asked whether “heinous crimes against women permit remission”, irrespective of whichever creed they may belong to or faith they may follow.
Meanwhile, Bilkis Bano thanked the top court for the verdict and said “this is what justice feels like”.
In a statement issued through her lawyer Shobha Gupta, Bilkis said, “I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and half. I have hugged my children. It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again.”
She added, “This is what justice feels like. I thank the honourable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children and women everywhere this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all.”
The top court, in its verdict, noted that the Gujarat government was not the appropriate authority to pass the order for remission. It clarified that the state in which an offender is tried and sentenced is competent to decide the remission plea of convicts. In this case, the convicts were tried in Maharashtra.
On August 15, 2022, the convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government and released. Bilkis said, “When those who had destroyed my family and terrorised my very existence, were given an early release, I simply collapsed.”
She said further, “I have had my husband and my children by my side. I have had my friends who have given me so much love at a time of such hate, and held my hand at each difficult turn. I have had an extraordinary lawyer, Advocate Shobha Gupta, who has walked with me unwaveringly for over 20 long years, and who never allowed me to lose hope in the idea of justice.”
Bilkis Bano was raped while fleeing the horror of the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident in February 2002. She was 21 years old and five months pregnant at the time. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed in the riots.