After spending over 15 years in jail, 11 convicts serving life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case from the 2002 Gujarat pogrom walked out of jail on Monday as the Gujarat government has allowed their release under its remission policy.
Bilkis Bano, pregnant at that time, was trying to flee her town along with 17 other members of the family when Hindu men she knew gang-raped her. Her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by Hindu militants on 03 March 2002, in Limkheda of Dahod district.
The BJP-led Gujarat government accepted the recommendation of a committee that was formed a few months back that took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case.
The convicts were awarded life imprisonment by a special CBI court in Mumbai in January 2008 on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family during the anti-Muslim genocide. In May 2017, the conviction was upheld by the Bombay High Court.
Earlier, the Supreme Court directed authorities to decide following a convict’s petition seeking premature release under the remission policy. The committee was headed by the Godhra district Collector since the convicts were serving their sentences in the Godhra sub-jail.
The 11 convicts are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.
In the 2008 verdict, the CBI court held that Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya raped Bilkis while Shailesh Bhatt killed Saleha by “smashing” her on the ground. The other accused were convicted of rape and murder, as being part of “an unlawful assembly”.
Bilkis had identified all the accused during the trial — she told the court that most of them were known to her and had purchased milk from her family.