India’s top court overrules early release of 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano gang rape case

Published January 8, 2024
A file photo of Bilkis Bano during a press conference in New Delhi. | Prakash Singh/AFP
A file photo of Bilkis Bano during a press conference in New Delhi. | Prakash Singh/AFP

India’s top court ruled on Monday that 11 murderers convicted of a gang rape that drew global outrage but who were released early must return to jail.

Bilkis Bano and two of her children were the only survivors among a group of Muslims attacked by a Hindu mob in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 during one of post-independence India’s worst religious riots.

Bilkis was pregnant at the time and seven of the 14 people murdered were relatives, including her three-year-old daughter.

The attack took place when Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, now India’s prime minister, was the premier of Gujarat.

Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to the riots but was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2012, two years before his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national power.

The 11 convicts were freed in August 2022 following a recommendation by a state government panel, but must now return to jail within two weeks, the Supreme Court in New Delhi ruled.

“Their plea for protection of their liberty is rejected,” the Supreme Court said. Allowing them to remain free would “not be in consonance of the rule of law”, it added.

The men were accorded a heroes’ welcome when they were released in 2022 and a viral video showed relatives and supporters welcoming them with sweets and garlands.

The convicts’ release triggered angry reactions across the country, especially since it coincided with India’s Independence Day celebrations, when Modi spoke about women’s safety and security.

Soon afterwards, Bilkis said she was “bereft of words”. At the time, she said in a statement released by her lawyer that she “trusted the system” and was “learning slowly to live with her trauma”.

“The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice,” she said then. “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

The opposition Congress party welcomed today’s ruling, saying it exposed the BJP’s “callous disregard for women”.

“It is a slap on the face of those who facilitated the illegal release of these criminals and also those who garlanded the convicts and fed sweets to them,” spokesman Pawan Khera posted on X, previously known as Twitter.

“India will not allow administration of justice to be incumbent on the religion or the caste of the victim or the perpetrator of a crime.”

 Screengrab of Pawan Khera’s Google-translated post on X.
Screengrab of Pawan Khera’s Google-translated post on X.

Opinion

In defamation’s name

In defamation’s name

It provides yet more proof that the undergirding logic of public authority in Pakistan is legal and extra-legal coercion rather than legitimised consent.

Editorial

Mercury rising
Updated 27 May, 2024

Mercury rising

Each of the country's leaders is equally responsible for the deep pit Pakistan seems to have fallen into.
Antibiotic overuse
27 May, 2024

Antibiotic overuse

ANTIMICROBIAL resistance is an escalating crisis claiming some 700,000 lives annually in Pakistan. It is the third...
World Cup team
27 May, 2024

World Cup team

PAKISTAN waited until the very end to name their T20 World Cup squad. Even then, there was last-minute drama. Four...
ICJ rebuke
Updated 26 May, 2024

ICJ rebuke

The reason for Israel’s criminal behaviour is that it is protected by its powerful Western friends.
Hot spells
26 May, 2024

Hot spells

WITH Pakistan already dealing with a heatwave that has affected 26 districts since May 21, word from the climate...
Defiant stance
26 May, 2024

Defiant stance

AT a time when the country is in talks with the IMF for a medium-term loan crucial to bolstering the fragile ...