Eleven of the 12 men convicted in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape case told the Bombay high court (HC) on Friday that Bilkis’s testimony was “bogus” and the CBI backed her story by “fabricating evidence”. The HC was hearing their appeals challenging their conviction by a special Mumbai court.
Harshad Ponda, senior advocate appearing for the convicts, raised doubts on the chronology of the 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.
According to Bilkis, on March 3, 2002, the convicts attacked her family when she was fleeing the Devgarh Baria village of Dahod district in Gujarat, in the aftermath of the Godhra riots. While eight people were killed, six others were reported missing and three — Bilkis and her two family members, master Hussain and Sadaam — survived. Bilkis said the family stopped in the village for her sister Shamim’s delivery.
Ponda argued the “story” that Shamim was pregnant and gave birth to a girl, who Bilkis claimed was killed in the incident, was “fictitious”. He disputed the veracity of the photographs of the bodies the CBI exhumed and other evidence recovered from the spot, as those who had taken the photographs had testified saying the CBI had “tortured” them into giving a statement.
When the CBI took over the probe in January 2004, it “seized” an envelope – containing eight photographs and 10 negatives -- from one of the prosecution witnesses. Ponda argued that if “only seven bodies were recovered, how did the CBI produce eight photos?”
The CBI, meanwhile, seemed ill-prepared to refute Ponda’s claims and satisfy the court on the number and identity of the victims, the chronology of events, the charges faced by the convicts. CBI counsel Hiten Venegaonkar expressed his inability to read out the post-mortem report because it was in Gujarati.
At this, the bench of justices VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar directed the CBI to be “better prepared”.