The Supreme Court of India’s decision to overturn the Gujarat government’s remission order for 11 Hindutva men in Bilkis Bano gangrape case and murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat Muslim genocide is met with acclaim from opposition leaders, while members of the ruling party stay silent.
On March 3, 2002, during the Gujarat genocide, a 21-year-old and five months pregnant Bilkis Bano was raped, and 14 members of her family were brutally killed by Hindutva mob. The 11 men convicted for the crime by a special court in Mumbai in 2008, a decision which was further upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017, were granted remission by the Gujarat government in August 2022 on grounds of “good behavior”.
On Monday, January 8, the Supreme Court quashed the remission order, thus deeming it invalid. The bench, comprising Justices BV Nagaratha and Ujjal Bhuyan, declared that the government of Gujarat abused its power, as it does not possess any authority of remission in the case, since the trial took place in Maharashtra. The apex court thus ordered the convicts to return to prison within two weeks.
In response to the landmark verdict, the Opposition leaders took to the social media platform X to express their happiness. The Congress hailed the decision, and even Aam Aadmi Party broke silence over the issue. Several activists and women groups celebrated the verdict which serves to restore the faith in India’s judiciary system.
Congress Leader, Rahul Gandhi slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party for attempting to manipulate justice for electoral gains, where the SC’s decision has served to bring to light the true “patron of criminals”. He hailed Bilkis’s struggle as “a symbol of the victory of justice against the arrogant BJP government.”
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress General Secretary congratulated Bilkis Bano on her relentless bravery, and criticized the ruling party for propagating anti-women agendas. Pawan Khera, Congress’s Media and Publicity Head, said that the SC ruling “exposes the BJP’s callous disregard for women”.
While the Aam Aadmi Party had refrained from explicitly commenting on Gujarat 2002 genocide related cases, broke its silence. Gopal Italia, the party’s national joint secretary, who is also a practicing lawyer, hailed the decision: “The SC’s decision is laudable and welcome… Why should you pardon rapists, who have been convicted by a court? If it was any other crime like a brawl or assault, and someone has forgiven, one can consider. But what happened that a rapist becomes a ‘good man’? When governments put aside the law and make decisions, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to step in and protect the spirit of justice and it has upheld the hopes of the people.”
AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi MP criticized the BJP government for assisting in the remission of the convicts, and demanded the party to apologize to Bilkis Bano: “So the BJP government in Gujarat and the BJP government at the Centre both have helped in releasing these convicts in the case of gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members and that is why I demand that the BJP government in Gujarat and the BJP government in Centre led by PM Narendra Modi they should speak up and apologise to Bilkis Bano. This is the minimum that can be done by the BJP.”
Owaisi recalled how BJP MLAs in Gujarat garlanded the rapists after their release in August 2022. He also condemned the Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being hollow in his cry for “Nari Shakti.”
”Supreme Court reverses acquittal of 11 in Bilkis Binu rape case during 2002 Gujarat genocide. A setback for Sangh Parivar government’s perceived impunity. Kudos to sister Balkis Banu for her courageous legal fight!” said Indian Union Muslim League MP ET Muhammed Basheer.
Meanwhile, C K Raulji, who had celebrated the remission of the 11 convicts back in August 2002 and had called them “Brahmins with good sanskaar”, told the Indian Express on Monday, “It is a court matter. I cannot comment on it till I study the court order.” Raulji belongs to BJP, and was a part of the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) which determined the 11 convicts fit to be granted the remission order.
Pravin Togadia, infamous Hindutva figure and leader of the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), said “Hindu brethren should receive justice”, referring to the convicts. “We pray that everyone should get justice in this country… We pray that the Hindu brethren should receive justice and be protected… We will look at available legal remedies in the case (of the convicts).”
Apart from the political leaders, Muslim groups, several activists and women’s rights groups expressed their joy and hope.
The National Secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Mrs Rahmathunnisa while welcoming the decision of the Supreme Court of India, said: “It is indeed disconcerting to note that the government of Gujarat carried out the remission as per the directions of the apex court through fraud and suppression of facts. It is indeed very shameful that the court had to point out that the act carried out by the government of Gujarat was a classic case where the order of the SC has been used to violate the rule of law for passing orders for remission. The ruling party owes an explanation to the nation for their state government in Gujarat being derided by the apex court for ‘usurpation and abuse of power’.”
Sister Jessy Kurian, a lawyer who was present in the apex court while it pronounced the verdict, conveyed how the people’s trust and hope in the judiciary has increased. “The verdict brings to the entire nation a silver line of hope in the judiciary,” she said to Matters India.
Teesta Setalvad, secretary of the Citizens for Justice and Peace, an organization which serves the victims of Gujarat riots of 2002, expressed how the Supreme Court “re-validated the ordinary citizens’ faith in its commitment to the rule of law, the Indian Constitution.” Seetalvad was detained by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Gujarat Police in 2022 for “allegedly conspiring to implicate the state government functionaries in the 2002 Riots.”
The ruling party, BJP, or the Prime Minister, have not released any official statement on the landmark decision by the country’s highest court.
Bilkis herself expressed, “I can breathe again.” Thanking the apex court, she said how her tears are now of relief, and her hope in justice has been restored.