MUMBAI: While dismissing the appeal by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for death sentence to three of the 11 convicted in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case, the Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld life imprisonment of all the convicts. The court also set aside the acquittal of seven persons including policemen and doctors, taking the total number of persons convicted in the case to 18.
“The appeal against conviction filed by the 11 convicts is dismissed. The conviction and sentence is upheld,” a division bench of Justices VK Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar said. “The appeal filed by the prosecution against the acquittal of seven persons (in the case) is allowed. The acquittal is set aside,” the court said. The Bench said the seven persons, which includes five policemen and two doctors, are convicted under sections 218 (not performing their duties) and section 201 (tampering of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“We will consider the undergone period in jail of these seven persons as their sentence, but we will impose a fine on them,” the court said. The convicted policemen and doctors are - Narpat Singh, Idris Abdul Saiyed, Bikabhai Patel, Ramsingh Bhabhor, Sombhai Gori, Arun Kumar Prasad (doctor) and Sangeeta Kumar Prasad (doctor).
The trial court had convicted Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Bhagwan Das Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana, holding them guilty of murder, gang rape and raping a pregnant woman. The CBI had sought death penalty for Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Shailesh Bhatt, who were charged with raping Bilkis.
The murder of the family members of 19-year-old Bilkis Bano and her gangrape was one of the most horrendous episodes of the 2002 Godhra riots. On March 3, the five months pregnant Bilkis was escaping a mob along with 17 others on a truck. An armed mob consisting of 35 people attacked the truck and killed 14 of her family members, including her two-year-old daughter. When Bilkis approached the local police station after the massacre, they refused to lodge a complaint and intimidated her. She then approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and petitioned the Supreme Court. The apex court then directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the case.
Though the trial began in Ahmedabad in 2003, the Supreme Court shifted it to Mumbai in 2004 after Bilkis and her family started receiving life threats in Gujarat. The Mumbai court ordered filing of charges against 19 accused, including six police officers and a government doctor.
In 2008, 11 of them were given life imprisonment. The CBI demanded death penalty for three arguing that the depraved act of gangraping a pregnant woman and multiple murders, including an infant and a toddler, amounted to the rarest of rare case.