“I will stand and fight again, against what is wrong and for what is right,” said Bilkis Bano, who has moved the Supreme Court challenging the remission and release of 11 convicts in the 2002 case related to her gangrape and murder of seven members of her family.
Bano was 21 years old and five-month pregnant when she was gangraped while fleeing the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.
In her two separate petitions, she has challenged the premature release of the convicts by the Gujarat government on August 15, saying it has “shaken the conscience of society”.
In a statement, issued on Thursday, she said, “The decision to once again stand up and knock on the doors of justice was not easy for me. For a long time, after the men who destroyed my entire family and my life were released, I was simply numb. I was paralysed with shock and with fear for my children, my daughters, and above all, paralysed by loss of hope.”
She added, “But, the spaces of my silence were filled with other voices; voices of support from different parts of the country that have given me hope in the face of unimaginable despair; and made me feel less alone in my pain. I cannot express in words what this support has meant to me.”
Bano said the support to her cause from different parts of the country has helped her in rekindling her faith in humanity and renewed her courage to believe again in the idea of justice.
“So, I will stand and fight again, against what is wrong and for what is right. I do this today for myself, for my children, and for women everywhere”, she said.
Besides the plea challenging the release of the convicts, the gang-rape survivor has also filed a separate petition seeking a review of the apex court’s May 13, 2022 order on a plea by a convict. The top court had asked the state government to consider the plea for premature release of the convicts in terms of its policy of July 9, 1992 about deciding a remission petition within a period of two months.
A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha was urged by the counsel for Bano that her two separate pleas, one challenging the remission and the other seeking a review of the apex court’s direction, be listed for urgent hearing. The top court took note of the submission by lawyer Shobha Gupta that Justice Ajay Rastogi, who was part of the bench which had heard other similar pleas against the remission, was now part of a Constitution bench hearing.
“The review has to be heard first. Let it come before Justice Rastogi,” the CJI said. The counsel for Bano suggested that the review plea, which as per the apex court rules, is decided in chambers by the judges concerned, be heard in an open court. “Only the court concerned can decide that (open court hearing),” the CJI said, adding he will take a call on the listing of both the matters in the evening.
Bano, in her plea against the grant of remission which had led to the release of the convicts on August 15, said the state government passed a “mechanical order” completely ignoring the requirement of law as laid down by the Supreme Court.
“The enmasse premature release of the convicts in the much talked about case of Bilkis Bano, has shaken the conscience of the society and resulted in a number of agitations across the country,” she said in the plea. Referring to past verdicts, the plea said enmasse remissions are not permissible and moreover, such a relief cannot be sought or granted as a matter of right, without examining the case of each convict individually, based on their peculiar facts and role played by them in the crime.
“The present writ petition challenging the decision of the State/Central Government granting remission to all the 11 convicts and releasing them prematurely in one of the most gruesome crimes of extreme inhuman violence and brutality by a group of human beings upon another group of human beings, all helpless and innocent people – most of them were either women or minors, by chasing them for days together persuaded by hate towards a particular community,” it said.
The plea, which gave minute details of the crime, said Bano and her grown up daughters were “shell-shocked with this sudden development”.
The decision of the government came as a shock to citizens, nationally and internationally, and society across segments showed “anger, disappointment, distrust” and protested against the clemency shown by the government.
“When the nation was celebrating its 76th Independence Day, all the convicts were released prematurely and were garlanded and felicitated in full public glare and sweets were circulated and this is how the present petitioner, along with the entire nation and the whole world came to know about the shocking news of premature release of all the convicts (respondents no. 3-13) of one of the most gruesome crime this country has ever seen of multiple time gang rape of a pregnant woman,” it said.
It referred to wide-virtual public protest in each city, on all social media platforms and news channels, portals. “It was also reported heavily that Muslims of the area started fleeing away from Rahimabad in fear after release of these 11 convicts,” the plea said.
The separate review plea said Bilkis Bano was not made a party to the petition by a convict who, along with others, was released under the state’s remission policy, which is not in force.
“In view of the development that the policy dated July 09, 1992 stood canceled vide circular dated May 08, 2003 of State of Gujarat, it was necessary to be examined whether still the policy dated 09.07.1992 would be the relevant policy for remission application of the convicts to be considered, if at all the State of Gujarat is the appropriate Government under section 432 CrPC,” the review plea said.
The top court is already seized of PILs filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, Revati Laul, an independent journalist, Roop Rekha Verma, who is a former vice chancellor of the Lucknow University, and TMC MP Mahua Moitra against the release of the convicts.