The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), responsible for bringing the accused in the Bilkis Bano rape case to book, may have saved them from the noose by failing to establish that it was a “rarest of rare” crime.
Bilkis, then 21 and pregnant, was gangraped while travelling with her young daughter and another relative during the Gujarat riots on March 3, 2002.
The CBI had sought death penalty for three accused — Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Shailesh Bhatt. The Nais had raped Bilkis and Bhatt had smashed her three-year-old daughter to the ground, killing the baby. The special court on Monday awarded life sentence to 11 accused on two counts for raping Bilkis and her relatives and killing her family members.
Special Judge UD Salvi also sentenced them to rigorous 10 years in jail for rape.
The 12th convict, head constable Somabhai Gori, was sentenced to three years for fudging the first information report lodged by Bilkis. The court has acquitted five policemen and a doctor couple.
Dr Sangeeta Prasad (39), acquitted along with her husband last week in the Bilkis Bano case, called the last six years the most traumatic period in their life.
“All we want now is to leave it behind,” Prasad (39) said on Monday, when the court officially pronounced her and husband Arun (37) not guilty.
She and her husband had been accused of fudging medical and post mortem reports in the 2002 gang rape and murder case.
Bano with her relatives was gang-raped and 14 members of her family killed when they were moving from their village in Gujarat to another during the riots.
Prasad and her husband were arrested by the Gujarat police in 2003.
“We were summoned by a court in Ahmedabad. As law-abiding citizens we attended the court and we were immediately arrested,” said Sangeeta.
The couple is now determined to start life afresh. Sitting on a wooden bench on the premises of the special court that acquitted them, they are busy keeping sons Varun (7) and Shagun (6) from running around the courtroom.
They said the ywere thankful to the court for exonerating them, although they did have to spend a year-and-half behind bars.
Prasad said she sympathised with Bano. “No girl should go through this and we are happy that she has got justice,” she said.
While they were in jail, Arun’s parents took the children to Bihar, where they lived, to take care of them.
During the trial, Prasad was so traumatised that she was even found mentally unfit to face the trial. On November 5, 2004, the special court separated her trial from the rest of the accused and sent her to an asylum for treatment.
Her trial started only after she became mentally sound.
“We were confident that we would be acquitted as we had not done anything wrong. We kept our patience and faith in god,” she said, adding that they would not have been able to fight the battle without the support of their family and friends.
The couple, who studied at the Gandhi Medical College in Bhopal, are settled in Ahmedabad with their own practice.