Social Issues

What is Bilkis Bano Case?

The Supreme Court has indicated it will primarily focus on the question of Gujarat’s jurisdiction to prematurely release 11 men sentenced to life for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family during the 2002 riots.

The main idea

  • The Bilkis Bano case is a landmark case of gangrape and mass murder that occurred during the 2002 Gujarat riots in India.
  • Bilkis Bano, then a 21-year-old pregnant woman, was raped and her family members were murdered during the riots that followed the Godhra train burning event.
  • The case was originally ignored, but after persistent efforts by Bano and her supporters, it was reopened and the perpetrators were apprehended.

Initial investigation and cover-up

  • No thorough investigation: Despite the gravity of the crime, the initial investigation was flawed.
  • Evidence tampered with: Bano’s medical evaluation was delayed for several days, during which critical evidence was lost.
  • No FIR registered: The police refused to file a First Information Report (FIR) initially, and when they did, they left out crucial details of the incident.

Reopening of the case

  • Bano and her supporters continued to struggle for justice, and in 2004, the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the order of the Supreme Court.
  • The CBI conducted a comprehensive investigation and charged 19 people, including police officers and doctors, who attempted to cover up the crime.
  • The trial began in a Mumbai court in 2008.

Conviction and sentencing

  • In 2017, after a lengthy legal battle, a Mumbai judge convicted 11 accused persons, including one police officer, for gang rape and murders.
  • The main accused, a police officer, was sentenced to life in prison, while the others received seven years in prison.
  • The court also acquitted seven other accused persons due to lack of evidence.

The release of convicted criminals is a critical problem.

  • In February 2021, the Bombay High Court acquitted five of the convicted persons, citing lack of evidence.
  • The court also upheld the police officer’s life sentence and reduced the sentences of the other convicts to three years.
  • The convicts were released from prison after serving their sentence.

What are the laws on remissions?

  • Prisoners are often granted remission of sentences and released on important occasions such as birth and death anniversaries of prominent leaders.
  • Under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution, the President and Governors have the authority to pardon, suspend, remit, or commute a sentence imposed by the courts.
  • As prisons are a state subject, state governments have the authority to commute sentences under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
  • The state government’s relief powers, however, are limited by Section 433A of the CrPC.
  • It requires a person serving a life imprisonment sentence for an offence where death is a punishment or where a death sentence has been commuted, cannot be released until they have served at least 14 years in prison.

Critical reception of the judgement

  • Bano and her family members expressed disappointment with the court’s decision to acquit some of the convicts, and they intend to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
  • Bano has served as a symbol of bravery and determination for survivors of sexual violence in India, and her case has highlighted the need for justice and accountability for crimes committed during communal riots.

Significance of the case

  • The Bilkis Bano case is significant because it highlights the issue of communal violence in India and the authorities’ failure to provide justice to the victims.
  • The case also underscores the need for the protection of the rights of women and minorities in India.
  • The long legal battle fought by Bano and her supporters shows that justice is possible, but it requires persistence, courage and the support of civil society.
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