The hearing on the appeals filed by 11 of the 12 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano Yakoob Rasool rape case will start in the Bombay high court (HC) on Friday. The HC bench of justice VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar will also hear the CBI’s plea, seeking death penalty for three convicts.
On March 3, 2002, 17 Muslims, including Bilkis Bano, were attacked in Devgarh Baria village of Dahod district in Gujarat, in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage. While eight people were killed, six others were reported missing and three — Bilkis Bano and her two family members, master Hussain and Sadaam — survived.
A special court convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on January 21, 2008 eleven men — Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana — for the gangrape of Bilkis and murder of her family members.
According to the CBI, Shah killed Bilkis’s three-year-old child by smashing her to the ground, while Jaswant, Govind and Pradeep Mordhiya tied her to a tree and gang-raped her. The prosecution alleged the accused assaulted Bilkis’s other relatives physically and sexually.
The CBI claimed five police officers allegedly refused to accept Bilkis’s complaint and her relatives, and instead forced them to sign some papers and threatened them not to disclose the gang-rape and assault.
The CBI has sought enhancement of punishment for the Nais and Shah.
The central investiating agency had sought death penalty for the three men earlier too, but the special court held there was no adequate evidence to point out “who out of them all actually delivered the fatal blows or who committed the rape on Bilkis’ mother and sister”.
The court, however, relied on the testimony of Bilkis and 73 prosecution witnesses.
The court also highlighted how the police and the administrative machinery chose to look the other way as Bilkis and countless other victims suffered in the aftermath of the riots. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh is likely to argue on behalf of the Central Bureua of Investigation.
The convicts have challenged the order on three grounds — all evidence in the case has been fabricated by the CBI, Bilkis gave birth to a child after the incident, which proved she could not have been gang-raped, and the failure to discover the bodies of some of her family members proves they were not killed.
The defence also questioned the veracity of the photographs of the bodies the CBI had exhumed and other evidence recovered from the spot, as those who had taken photos for the prosecution later claimed they had backed such evidence under duress.