The Bombay high court has reserved its order on the appeals filed by the CBI and the convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang-rape case.
The 11 convicts, who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2008 for raping Bilkis Bano and killing her family members in the aftermath of the Godhra riots, had filed the appeal in the HC challenging their conviction. The CBI, meanwhile, had moved HC in 2011, seeking death penalty for three of them.
The bench of Justice VK Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar had been conducting a day to day hearing on both the pleas since July, this year.
Appearing for the CBI, advocate Hiten Venegaonkar had sought the death penalty, arguing that the case was that of a “mass murder” as 14 members of a family, including a three-day-old child, had been killed. He argued that the riots had caused an “exodus” and while Bilkis and her family had been on the run, they were raped and murdered. “Therefore, the case belonged to the ‘rarest of rare’ category and warrants the maximum punishment.”
Meanwhile, Harshad Ponda, the senior advocate appearing for the convicts, raised doubts on the “chronology of events narrated by Bilkis, the FIR registered by the Gujarat police and the photographs of the dead bodies and other evidence collected from the spot.” He argued that the CBI had fabricated all the evidence in the case.
In January 2008, a Mumbai court had held the 11 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 — guilty of murder and gang rape among other charges, and sentenced all of them to life imprisonment.
In March 2002, Bilkis Bano’s family was attacked by a mob. Bano, who was 19-years-old at the time and five months pregnant, was gangraped by the convicts and left to die. Fourteen of her family were killed.