2002 Gujarat Riots: SC reserves verdict on batch of petitions related to premature release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case

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On October 12, 2023, the Supreme Court (SC) bench comprising Justice BV Nagarathna and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan was hearing the matter related to the premature release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple murders and gang rapes during the riots. Last year on Independence Day, the 11 convicts were released and allowed to walk free. During the SC proceedings on October 12, the bench reserved its verdict on the matter and directed the Gujarat and Union governments to submit original records. The SC order reads, “We have heard learned senior counsel and learned counsel for petitioners insofar as reply arguments are concerned. We have asked learned counsel for the State of Gujarat to submit the original records. It is submitted that the original records are in Gujarati. Therefore, English translations will also be furnished along with the original records by Monday. The Union of India is also to submit original records on Monday. Judgment reserved.”

While hearing the matter, the nature and seriousness of the crime conducted by the 11 convicts were discussed and it was argued by one of the Bilkis Bano’s advocates that on the grounds of the brutality of the crimes, the convicts do not deserve leniency. Advocate argued, “...Bilkis saw her first child’s head being smashed on a stone. She kept pleading to the attackers because she was from the same locality as them. That is why she could name them. She knew them because they were from the locality. But they showed her or her family no mercy… Are these people- the perpetrators who have been found guilty of committing these crimes- deserving of the leniency shown to them?” The Advocate also contended that the societal impact of the premature release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists was not considered by the government. Further added, “This barbaric crime has left an indelible mark on Bilkis. Therefore, this is not a case where the convicts deserve mercy. The convicts should be sent back, I’m beseeching this court with folded hands to send them back where they have come from.”

Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra, SA Rishi Malhotra, SA S Guru Krishnakumar, Advocate Sonia Mathur, and others represented the convicts. Advocate Shobha Gupta appeared for Bilkis Bano. SA Indira Jaising, Advocate Nizamuddin Pasha, Vrinda Grover, Pratik R Bombarde, and Aparna Bhat represented Public Interest Litigants. 

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