NEW DELHI: Gujarat’s gang-rape victim Bilkis Bano on Wednesday challenged the recent remission of sentence and release of convicts in the 2002 case of brutal assault and the murder of her family, and the Supreme Court said it would consider listing the matter for hearing.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submissions of lawyer Shobha Gupta that the victim herself has challenged the grant of remission and release of the convicts, and the matter be listed for hearing.

She said that Justice Ajay Rastogi, who was part of the bench which had heard other similar pleas against the remission, was now part of a Constitution Bench hearing.

“The review has to be heard first. Let it come before Justice Rastogi,” the CJI said.

When the counsel for Bano said let the matter be heard in open court, the bench said: “Only the court concerned can decide that.” The CJI said that he would take a call on the issue in the evening.

Earlier, a bench of justices Ajay Rastogi and C T Ravikumar had said that it would hear a fresh plea moved by a women’s organisation, National Federation of Indian Women, challenging the remission of sentence and the release of convicts in the case.

The gang-rape case also involves the killing of seven of Bano’s family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Bano was gang-raped while fleeing the riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident.

Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven of her family who were killed.

The 11 men convicted in the case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. The men who were celebrated after their release by rightwing Hindu groups, had completed more than 15 years in jail.

The release of the convicts on India’s Independence Day clashed with the opposite treatment meted out to a 90 percent crippled inmate convicted as a Maoist collaborator whose bail was cancelled within moments of the decree.

A Special Central Bureau of Investigation Court had sentenced the rapists to life imprisonment in 2008. Their release was seen as unjust and the subsequent celebration of their release by rightwing Hindu activists was found revolting.

The same Supreme Court had suspend the operation of the judgment of the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur bench, which had acquitted former Delhi University professor, G N Saibaba, and four others in a case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) over alleged Maoist links. The two cases juxtaposed have disturbed rights activists and legal analysts.

The High Court judgment was delivered on October 14. On the same day, the state rushed to seek a stay on it. The matter was taken up by a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, but it declined to stay the judgment. The state then approached the Chief Justice for immediate urgent listing of the case. The then Chief Justice found the matter so grave, and the likely release of Saibaba from jail so serious a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, that he constituted a special bench, and directed the matter to be heard on the following day, which was a Saturday, a non-working day of the court, The Indian Express noted.

“The desperation with which the state moved to stall Saibaba’s release was unprecedented. It was as though, on his release from jail, he would have vanished in thin air. Equally unprecedented was the alacrity with which the Chief Justice ordered the matter to be listed.”

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2022

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