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Godhra riot rape victim Bilkis Bano challenges early release of convicts in Supreme Court

Godhra riot rape victim Bilkis Bano on Wednesday approached Supreme Court against the premature release of 11 men who had gang-raped her and murdered her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Bano filed a review plea against the May order of Supreme Court, that allowed Gujarat government to apply 1992 Remission Policy in the case.

All the eleven convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment in the case, were freed on August 16, after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, an official said. A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the eleven accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family.

Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee, said Panchmahals Collector Sujal Mayatra, who headed the panel.

“A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release,” said Mayatra.

After the violence erupted following the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 ‘karsevaks ‘on February 27, 2002, Bilkis Bano, who was five-month pregnant at that time, fled her village with her toddler daughter and 15 others. On March 3, they took shelter in a field when a mob of 20-30 people armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked them and Bilkis Bano was gang raped, while seven members of her family were killed. Six other members managed to run away.

Given the outrage over the incident, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe. The accused in the case were arrested in 2004.

The trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis Bano expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.

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