Bilkis Bano gang rape convict shares stage with BJP MP, MLA: Gujarat

On the day before the Supreme Court of India is set to hear a batch of petitions challenging the premature release of all 11 convicts by the Gujarat government on March 27, an elected representative of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shares a stage with gang rape convict

Bilkis Bano Convicts

The controversy erupts again on March 25/26, 2023 though it is not the first time. A controversy has erupted over two leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including a Member of Parliament and a local legislature sharing stage with one of the 11 convicts of Bilkis Bano gang rape case in a government function held in Dahod district. Jaswantsinh Bhabhor, the BJP MP from Gujarat’s Dahod, and his brother Shaileshbhai Bhabhor, the BJP MLA from Limkheda, on Saturday (March 25) shared a stage with Shailesh Bhatt – one of the 11 men convicted for raping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots and released on parole by the Gujarat government. Both the elected officials, Jaswantsinh and Shaileshbhai tweeted pictures of the launch of a Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) project in Karmadi village in Singvad taluka of Dahod district, and Bilkis’s husband Yakub Rasool confirmed to The Quint that one of the men on stage was Bhatt, who is among the 11 convicts released prematurely by the state government. Bhatt is seen sitting in the front row during the ground breaking ceremony of Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board project at Karmadi village in Singvad taluka of Dahod district on Saturday. On the day after their release in 2022, August 16, eleven convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case, released from jail under the Gujarat government’s remission policy, were greeted with garlands at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad office.

Available photographs and the videos of the event show Bhatt sitting between local BJP MP Jasvantsinh Bhabhor and his brother Shailesh Bhabhor, who is a BJP MLA of Limkheda. Despite repeated attempts both the BJP leaders couldn’t be contacted for comments. These were reported by Deccan Herald, Indian Express and Times of India.

At the event hosted by the BJP-ruled state government, the BJP leaders performed rituals of the Rs. 101.88 crore project aimed at supplying potable water to 64 villages of Limkheda, Singvad and Jhalod talukas of the Dahod district. 

The fact that the state and central governments had wilfully effected the release of all convicts on remission after a judgement of the Supreme Court in May 2022 is well known. The release was finally ordered by the Ministry of Home Affairs, union of India, despite objections from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the presiding judge, Justice Salvi who had convicted them!

The fresh controversy of stamp of approval for the released convict comes a day before the Supreme Court is set to hear a batch of petitions challenging the premature release of all 11 convicts by the Gujarat government.  It was on India’s 75th Independence Day, that the macabre release on August 15, 2022 took place. This was based on recommendation of Jail Advisory Committee, whose members consisted of two BJP MLAs along with district collector, Panchmahal, among others, 11 people convicted to life imprisonment for gang rape of Bilkis and killing of 14 persons including her children and close relatives, were released from jail on remission.

The Indian Express reported that photographs of the event released by the Dahod District Information Department, Bhatt is seated in the front row, between Jaswantsinh and Kanta Damor, president of the Singvad taluka panchayat. “It (GWSSB) was a public event that I attended… I don’t have anything else to say,” Bhatt told the newspaper.

While Jaswantsinh refused to comment, Shaileshbhai reportedly said, “Being the MLA, I was so busy at the event that I did not see who else was sitting on the dais. I will check if he (Bhatt) was present at the event.” Pradeep Parmar, Deputy Engineer of the GWSSB, Dahod, denied knowledge of the person who had issued the invitation. “The invitations are not sent out by the water supply department even if the event is organised by us… The taluka panchayat members would have invited the guests. We do not know who decided the seating on the dais. It is possible that the local engineer of the GWSSB in Limkheda would have been privy to the list.”

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra has reacted sharply to the incident, calling Bhatt a “monster” who should be put back in jail.

Supreme Court petitions

Bilkis Bano and others have file pleas in the Supreme Court against the early release of the 11 convicts. The court is supposed to hear the petitions on Monday.

In a shocking turn of events, eleven people convicted in the Bilkis Bano case have been freed from Godhra sub jail after a state government panel approved their application for remission of sentence. The men had been convicted for gang raping Bano and murdering 14 people including Bano’s two and a half-year-old daughter Saleha.

The convicts who have been freed are: Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.

Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub told Deccan Herald, “We are shocked. We have no idea about this order. We don’t know what kind of justice system this is.”

The Indian Express quoted Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar as saying, “The 11 convicts have served a 14-year sentence in total. According to law, a life term means a minimum period of 14 years after which the convict can apply for remission. It is then the decision of the government to consider the application. Based on eligibility, prisoners are granted remission after the recommendation of the prison advisory committee as well as district legal authorities.”

He went on to offer an explanation around why men were freed, he said, “Among the parameters considered are age, nature of the crime, behaviour in prison and so on…The convicts in this particular case were also considered eligible after considering all the factors since they had competed for 14 years of their life term.” The release has then, and now again, with this brazen support for the convicts, sparked outrage on social media.

August 2022: felicitating Rapists and Murderers in Gujarat

Bilkis bano

In August 2022, within days of their release, the freed men had been felicitated.

This brazen act of “welcoming convicts in Bilkis Bano case with garlands defamed Hinduism’, the former Judge UD Salvi who convicted them had told the media. Salvi had noted that while releasing them was in the power of the state, felicitating them was absolutely incorrect. He lashed out at a recent remark by a BJP MLA who claimed that ‘Brahmin men (the convicts) are of good sanskar’. 

Justice UD Salvi, giving public reactions at the time of the release last year, also said that the 11 convicts, who were remitted in the Bilkis Bano rape case, should not have been released. Salvi, who convicted those 14 years ago, criticised the welcoming celebration of the men with sweets and garlands that “defamed” Hinduism, according to a report by NDTV. 

At the time, while speaking to NDTV, Salvi noted that while releasing them was in the power of the state, felicitating them was absolutely incorrect. He lashed out at a recent remark by a BJP MLA who claimed that ‘Brahmin men (the convicts) are of good sanskar’.  “Whoever took this decision, should reconsider this, that’s all I can say.”

Commenting on the remission procedure, Salvi noted that the state government did not consult him under whom the case was heard. He further noted that when cases are transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the state government ought to seek advice from the central government.

MHA backs release: Gujarat Govt affidavit in SC

Thereafter, after a slew of petitions challenging the questionable release were filed, a submission made by the Gujarat government before the Supreme Court has revealed that it was the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that enabled the release of eleven men convicted in the Bilkis Bano case. The approval for their release was granted despite opposition from a special court and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

According to documents submitted before the Supreme Court, and reported in LiveLaw, the premature release application was first filed on February 23, 2021. In a letter dated March 11, 2021, the CBI, the Superintendent of Police, and the SCB, Mumbai advised against the release of the convicts. According to NDTV, the CBI said that the crime committed by the accused was “heinous, grave and serious” and so the “accused cannot be released prematurely and no leniency can be given to him”.

While the matter was under consideration, in March 22, 2021, Special Judge (CBI), Anand L Yawalkar also opposed the release was quoted by NDTV in a letter writing in his objections to the Superintendent of the Godhra sub-jail: “In this case all convicted accused were found guilty for rape and murder of innocent people. That the accused had no enmity or any relation with the victim. The crime was committed only on the ground that the victims belongs to a particular religion. In this case even minor children and pregnant woman were not spared. This is worst form of hate crime and crime against the humanity.”

Yet the officers of the district administration concurred with the decision for the release. In a letter dated March 7, 2022, the Superintendent of Police Dahod, Gujarat, said that he had no objection to the premature release of the prisoners. The Collector and District Magistrate of Dahod also said he had no objection in another letter dated March 7, 2022. The Jail Superintendent of Godhra Sub-Jail also said he had no objection.

Finally, May 26, 2022, the Jail Advisory Committee unanimously recommended the premature release of the convicts. Following this the Additional Director General of Police, Prisons and Correctional Administration, Ahmedabad, wrote to the Gujarat Home Department on June 9, saying he too had no objection to the release. The Gujarat Home Department then wrote to the MHA on June 28, 2022, recommending the release and sought approval/suitable orders for the same. Just two weeks later, on July 11, the MHA wrote back to the Gujarat Home Department approving the release.  


Bilkis Bano case: Convicts set free with MHA’s approval, despite opposition from CBI and Special Court

Rectify this horrendously wrong decision: Ex-bureaucrats to SC on remission to convicts in Bilkis Bano case




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