Big blow to the BJP govt: Supreme Court dethrones the pre-release of 11 convicts of Bilkis Bano case...What you should know?

In a historical verdict that gave a big blow to the BJP government in Gujarat, the Supreme Court has on Monday - January 8 dethroned a ruling of the BJP government in a premature release of eleven accused, who were convicted in a case relating to gang rape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family amidst the violent 2002 Gujarat riots that occurred under the watch of Narendra Modi, when he was serving as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. 

The Supreme Court's verdict has become a legal setback for the BJP at a high time when the party is aiming to retain the reign for the third consecutive time by winning the upcoming general elections. With the current verdict, the eleven convicts have been asked to return to jail to serve incarceration for committing a heinous crime that neither they remorsed nor asked an apology to the victims. 

The convicts were lodged at a Gujarat prison with a sentence of life imprisonment. After the gruesome incident, the case was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and all the convicts were arrested in 2004. In the wake of a suspicion of a fair trial, the case was transferred from Gujarat to the Bombay High Court, Maharashtra and the latter had awarded life imprisonment to the convicts in 2008.

After serving fourteen years behind the bars, they were prematurely released in August 2022 by the order of Gujarat-ruling BJP government. Ironically, the convicts of a serious crime walked out of the prison when the nation was celebrating its 75th year of independence. Their early release sparked national outrage as millions of people went flabberglasted over their release and remarked that their release has shaken the soul of India.

When the entire nation was against the release of these eleven convicts, the members of Hindutva outfits and the families offered a garland and welcomed them from the prison. Their release was sharply espoused by the BJP-led Modi regime and there were events where the BJP members supported the convicts by stating that their conducts were good and shockingly said 'they are Brahmins'. 

Bilkis Bano, the survivor of the violent attack, who lost her children and was gang-raped by a Hindu mob during the Gujarat riots, was taken aback over the release of these eleven convicts and she moved to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the BJP government in Gujarat to release them. In the court, Bano told that the release of the men had shaken the conscience of the society.

By citing the crime as one of the 'most gruesome' this country has ever seen, Bano said that the release had left her shell-shocked. After hearing the petition challenging their release, the apex court noted that it was inappropriate that the BJP government in Gujarat has released them. In its verdict on Monday, the two-judge bench headed by Justice BV Nagarathna said that the Gujarat government was not competent to pass the remission order in the case. 

The apex court observed that the government is not competent to release them as the men were convicted by the Bombay High Court in the nearby state of Maharashtra. The bench further said that since the government's remission order has been revoked, the eleven convicts have to surrender to the prison within two weeks. BBC has quoted Justice Nagarathna saying, "Justice encompasses not just the rights of the convicts but also the rights of the victims and the primary duty of the court is to uphold justice and rule of law." 

Justice Nagarathna further said, "The rule of law must be preserved unmindful of the ripples of the consequences." The top court has also held that the petition filed by victim Bilkis Bano challenging remission order by the Gujarat government was maintainable. It is pertinent to note that besides Bilkis Bano, several activists and opposition leaders have filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to challenge the early release of these men. 

In their litigations, the petitioners claimed that the order to release convicts passed in August 2022 was arbitrary, malafide, and partisan. On the other hand, the convicts claimed that once they have been released from the jail, their liberty cannot be affected and that they cannot be denied the benefit of remission only on the ground that the crime was heinous.