‘Today it is Bilkis Bano but tomorrow it can be anyone,’ Supreme court questions remission to convicts, next hearing on May 2

“Today it is this lady (Bilkis) but tomorrow it can be anyone. It may be you or me. If you do not show your reasons for grant of remission, then we will draw our own conclusions,” the Supreme Court bench said.

Bilkis Bano
Bilkis Bano is a gang-rape survivor in the communal violence that followed the Godhra train burning incident in Gujarat in 2022. (Express Photo)

The Centre and BJP-ruled Gujarat government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that they may challenge the top court’s order directing them to present files relating to the remission of 11 convicted men in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang-rape and murder of her family members case, reported Bar and Bench.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) SV Raju, appearing for both governments, informed a two-judge bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna.

The court had earlier stated that “The first respondent-Union of India as also the second respondent-State of Gujarat will be ready with the relevant files regarding the grant of remission to the party-respondents on the next date of hearing.”

To this, Justice Joseph orally remarked that the state government’s stance of not producing the files amounted to contempt of court.

“What is the problem in showing us (the files) today? You are in contempt for not producing it. Why are you shying away (now)? You did not file a review; we never stopped you,” Justice Joseph remarked.

“If the Union has concurred, it does not mean you do not have to individually apply your mind. No State can escape the contours of the law. For us if you say you will not give us reasons or produce the files … We will be free to draw our own conclusions,” Justice Joseph further remarked.

To which, Justice Nagarathna, replied saying, “You will be in a better place if you show.”

Asking for reasons for the premature release of the convicts, the bench also questioned the paroles granted to them during their incarceration period, saying, “It (remission) is a kind of grace which should be proportional to crime.”

“Look at the records, one of them was granted parole for 1,000 days that is three years, the other 1,200 days and third is for 1,500 days. What policy have you (Gujarat government) been following? It is not a simple case of section 302 (murder) but a case of murders compounded by gangrape. Like you cannot compare apples with oranges, similarly massacre cannot be compared with single murder,” the bench said, as reported by PTI.

The bench told Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Centre and the Gujarat government, “Here a pregnant woman, who was gang-raped and several members of her family were killed. Crimes are generally committed against society and the community. Unequals cannot be treated equally.”

“The real question is whether the government applied its mind and what material formed the basis of its decision to grant remission in the facts and circumstances of the case,” the bench said, adding, “Today it is this lady (Bilkis) but tomorrow it can be anyone. It may be you or me. If you do not show your reasons for grant of remission, then we will draw our own conclusions.”

The bench further said that when a crime is committed, the offence is against a community or the society and “when you release a person in a case like this, you have to look at the public at large. You have to see what message you are sending to the public”.

The bench said all the respondents shall file their replies by May 1 and posted the matter for further hearing on May 2.

What is the Bilkis Bano case?

Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, while fleeing from the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident. Fourteen members of her family including her three-year-old daughter were also killed in the violence.

All the 11 convicts were released from a Godhra jail on August 15 last year after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy.

PILs challenging the remission in the top court were 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.

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First published on: 19-04-2023 at 12:08 IST