Gujarat: Bilkis Bano Case Convict Shares Stage With BJP Lawmakers Days Before Supreme Court Hearing

Bilkis Bano was gangraped during the Gujarat Riots and seven members of her family were killed. Eleven men were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case in 2008. All of these 11 convicts were released last year when Gujarat government remitted their sentence.

Bilkis Bano after her 11 rapists were freed on August 15

Two days before the Supreme Court hearing of challenge to the release of convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, one of the 11 convicts shared the stage with two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers on Saturday.

The Indian Express reported that Shailesh Bhatt, one of the 11 convicts, shared the stage with BJP’s Dahod MP Jasvantsinh Bhabhor and his brother Shailesh Bhabhor, BJP MLA from Limkheda, at groundbreaking ceremony of a Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) project in a village in Dahod district.

Sharing the photo of the event, Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra termed the BJP government as "satanic" and called the incident a "travesty of justice". 

Bilkis Bano and her family came under attack on March 3, 2002 during the Gujarat Riots. A mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords, and sticks attacked them. Bano was gangraped while seven members of her family were killed. Eleven men were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case in 2008. All of these 11 convicts were released last year when Gujarat government remitted their sentence. 

At the time of their release, the freed convicts were met with garlands and sweets were distributed. 

What we know of the event?

The Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) event in which Bilkis Bano case convict Shailesh Bhatt shared the state with two BJP lawmakers took place on Saturday in Karmadi Village of Dahod district, according to NDTV.

One of the BJP lawmakers and the organider GWSSB denied knowledge of the presence of Bhatt, reported The Express.

The Express reported, "While MP Jasvantsinh Bhabhor did not respond to queries seeking his comment on Bhatt’s presence, his brother Shailesh Bhabhor said, 'Being the MLA, I was so busy at the event that I did not see who else was sitting on the dais. I will check if he (Bhatt) was present at the event'."

The GWSSB said though the board was the organiser, the invitations were send out by the taluka panchayat and they were unaware of Bhatt's presence.

"The invitations are not sent out by the water supply department even if the event is organised by us. The taluka panchayat members would have invited the guests. We do not know who decided the seating on the dais. It is possible that the local engineer of the GWSSB in Limkheda would have been privy to the list," said Pradeep Parmar, Deputy Engineer of the GWSSB, Dahod, as per The Express

Supreme Court to take up Bilkis Bano case pleas today

A Supreme Court bench is scheduled to take up a clutch of petitions challenging the remission of sentences to Bilkis Bano case convicts on Monday.

A bench of Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna will hear the pleas filed by several political and civil rights activists and a writ petition filed by Bano. Earlier, the pleas came up before the apex court but could not be taken up as one of the judges recused. On March 22, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud had directed the matter for urgent listing and had agreed to constitute a new bench. 

Following the release of the convicts in August, Bano had approached the Supreme Court in November against the government order.

Separately, Bano has also challenged the Supreme Court order of May 2022 that paved the way for the Gujarat government to release the convicts.

After serving 15 years in jail, one of the convicts approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee, said Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the committee.

"A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release," said Mayatra in August 2022.

(With PTI inputs)