The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to list the petitions filed by three convicts in the Bilkis Bano case who have asked for more time to surrender. The petitions come over a week after the 11 men were ordered back to jail after the Supreme Court cancelled the order that granted them early release.
Senior lawyer V Chitambaresh sought an early hearing in the petition, saying that the three men only had three days before they had to surrender on January 21. Justice BV Nagarathna directed the registry to seek orders from Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud to constitute a bench with Justice Ujjal Bhuiyan to hear the petitions on Friday.
In their petitions, the three men cited reasons ranging from family weddings and dependent parents to the harvest season for requesting more time.
In a landmark verdict on January 8, the Supreme Court cancelled the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to the 11 men who gang-raped Bilkis Bano and murdered seven members of her family, including her three-year old daughter, during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The judges also directed the convicts, who were released on Independence Day in 2022, to surrender by January 22.
Convict Govindbhai Nai has asked for four more weeks and Ramesh Chandana and Mitesh Bhatt have sought six more weeks to turn themselves in.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Nai, who works as a barber, claims that he is the sole caregiver for his 88-year-old bedridden father and 75-year-old mother, who he says are completely dependent on him. He also says he is responsible for the financial needs of his two children. The 55-year-old also referred to his own health, saying he has asthma and recently underwent a surgery. Nai also claims that after his release from prison, he had not violated any law and had complied with the terms and conditions of the release order.
Ramesh Chandana has told the Supreme Court that he needs time for his son’s wedding, and Mitesh Bhatt has cited the harvest season.
21-year-old Bilkis Bano was pregnant when she and her family were attacked by a mob during the 2002 riots. She and two of her children were the only survivors of that attack.
The men who gang-raped her and killed her family were accorded a hero’s welcome upon their release by the Gujarat government.
The Supreme Court said the Gujarat government was not competent to release the men. “The exercise of power by the state of Gujarat is an instance of usurpation of power and abuse of power. The rule of law must be preserved unmindful of the ripples of the consequences,” Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said in their order.
“To keep them out would not be in consonance of the rule of law,” the Supreme Court said, adding that “arguments with emotional appeal become hollow when placed in juxtaposition with the facts of the case.”
The convicts who were released early are Jaswant Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.