Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bilkis Bano gangrape case: Bombay HC upholds conviction of 11 convicts

NB: Bilkis Bano deserves a salute from all democratic citizens. Her courage and determination to secure justice after undergoing such a horrific experience is truly extraordinary. It s also a matter of satisfaction that the HC has upheld her evidence. Salaam Bilkis. DS

The Bombay high court upheld on Thursday life sentences for 11 men for gangraping Bilkis Bano during the 2002 anti-Muslim violence and convicted six people for tampering evidence in one of India’s most high-profile riot cases. The court, however, rejected the CBI’s appeal to put three of the 11 men to death. A division bench of justice VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar also dismissed the defence argument that Bilkis’ testimony was “bogus” and “full of contradictions”.

Bikis was one of 17 people who were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002 in Gujarat’s Dahod district at the height of violence in the state. Eight people were killed, six reported missing and only three - Bilkis Bano and two family members - survived. Bilkis, then 19, was raped and left for dead by the miscreants, The case grabbed national headlines in 2003 when the Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe after the National Human Rights Commission backed Bilkis’ petition against a judicial magistrate order closing investigation.
In January 2008, a special court convicted eleven 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 - for the gang rape of Bilkis and murder of her family members. The 11 convicts had challenged their conviction in the HC. The CBI also approached the court challenging the acquittal of Gujarat police officers and state hospital doctors on charges of evidence tampering. The agency also wanted death penalty for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Radhesham Shah, saying the three played a significant role in “pre-planning and executing” the entire incident. They court had reserved judgment on the appeals in November last year, after conducting a day-to-day hearing on both the pleas for about five months.

The CBI, however, moved HC seeking enhancement of punishment for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Radhesham Shah, saying the three played a significant role in “pre-planning and executing” the entire incident. It had also said all three of them raped Bilkis, her sister and her mother and had been identified by her. The CBI urged the court to overturn the clean chit granted to five Gujarat Police officials, arguing they were complicit with those convicted in the case.

The defence’s primary argument in the case was that Bilkis’ testimony was “full of contradictions” and ought to be disbelieved by the court. Defence counsel, senior advocate Harshad Ponda, argued before the HC Bilkis’ entire testimony was “bogus” and that the CBI had gone on to back her story by “fabricating evidence.” Advocate Ponda, who was appearing for the convicts, had raised doubts primarily on three points – the chronology of the events as narrated by Bilkis, the FIR registered in the case by the Gujarat Police, and the photos of the dead bodies and other evidence collected from the spot. Ponda argued the entire ‘story’ of Shamim having been pregnant, her giving birth to a baby girl, who Bilkis claimed was also killed in the incident, was “fictitious.”

He also disputed the veracity of the photographs of the bodies that the CBI had exhumed and other evidence recovered from the spot since those who the prosecution claimed had taken the photos, testified saying that the CBI had “tortured” them into giving a statement. Appearing for the CBI, advocate Hiten Venegaonkar had denied the defence’s charges and sought the death penalty arguing that the case was that of a “mass murder” as 14 members of a family, including a child who was just three days old, had been killed. He argued that the riots had caused a situation of “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 warranted the maximum punishment,” he had said.

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