The Bombay high court upheld on Thursday life sentences for 11 men for gangraping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 anti-Muslim violence and convicted seven people for tampering evidence in one of India’s most high-profile riot cases.
The court, however, rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation’s appeal to put three of the 11 men to death.
A division bench of justice VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar also dismissed the defence argument that Bilkis’ testimony was “bogus” and “full of contradictions”.
“The appeal against conviction filed by the 11 convicts is dismissed. The conviction and sentence is upheld,” the HC said.
Bikis was one of 17 people who were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002 in Gujarat’s Dahod district at the height of violence in the state. Eight people were killed, six reported missing and only three — Bilkis Bano and two family members — survived. Bilkis, then 19, was raped and left for dead by the miscreants,
The case grabbed national headlines in 2003 when the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe after the National Human Rights Commission backed Bilkis’ petition against a judicial magistrate order closing investigation.
In January 2008, a special court convicted 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 gang rape of Bilkis and murder of her family members.
The 11 convicts had challenged their conviction in the HC. The CBI also approached the court challenging the acquittal of Gujarat police officers and state hospital doctors on charges of evidence tampering.
The agency also wanted death penalty for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Radhesham Shah, saying the three played a significant role in “pre-planning and executing” the entire incident.
“The appeal filed by the prosecution against the acquittal of seven persons (in the case) is allowed. The acquittal is set aside,” the court said.
The bench said the seven persons, which includes five policemen and two doctors, are convicted under sections 218 (not performing their duties) and section 201 (tampering of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“We will consider the undergone period in jail of these seven persons as their sentence. But we will impose a fine amount ,” the court said .
The court had reserved judgment on the appeals in November last year, after conducting a day-to-day hearing on both the pleas for about five months.
(With agency inputs)