The premature release of 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano and killing her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots has been approved by the federal Home Office, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court today. Under the state government’s outdated sentence reduction policy, criminals are free to walk on Independence Day, sparking huge political controversy. While such releases require approval from the federal Home Office, the state has yet to clarify the permit, leaving it in a gray area.
Critics have questioned whether the federal Home Office has approved the release, as both the central and the state’s existing laws restrict the premature release of people convicted of rape or sentenced to life in prison.
This provision was absent from Gujarat’s 1992 Sentence Reduction Policy, under which the Advisory Committee recommended the release of men.
Today, the Gujarat government filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court saying the federal Home Ministry has approved the early release through a letter dated July 11, 2022. The ministry’s letter, visited by NDTV, said it “agreed/approved the early release by the central government under Section 435 of the CrPc…”
The Supreme Court is hearing three petitions from CPM Politburo member Subhashini Ali, Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra and another person challenging the release of the men.
One of the petitioners argued that the case had been investigated by the CBI and therefore that it was an “impermissible” procedure to grant relief only by the Gujarat government without consultation with the central government, as mandated by Section 435 of the Penal Code, 1973.
The court has asked the Gujarat government to file the full proceedings in the Bilkis Bano case, including the commutation orders given to the offenders.
Seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family were murdered before her eyes – including her three-year-old daughter, who was stoned in the head. She said seven other relatives who were also killed were declared “missing”.
The woman, who was 21 at the time and five months pregnant, was gang-raped. The family was attacked while hiding in a field in Dakhod, Gujarat, as violence swept the state after violence hit the Sabarmati Express, killing 59 “kar sevaks”.
Their atrocities gave Bilkis Bano the highest ever compensation in a rape case – a job, a house and Rs 5 million – by the Supreme Court in 2019.
The criminals were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court in Mumbai, which was later upheld by the High Court.
Bilkis Bano said she was not consulted or informed of the decision.
The Gujarat government said in its affidavit that the men had been released because they had been in prison for 14 years and their actions had been proven good.
NDTV found that five out of 10 members of the Gujarat government advisory committee for the proposed release were linked to the BJP.
Opposition parties slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move within hours of praising “Nari Shakti” in his Independence Day speech, saying it was the “real face” of the new India under the BJP .
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the Gujarat government violated the guidelines of its Home Ministry by releasing the criminals.