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  • Writer's pictureAyush Kumar

Prolonged Pursuit of Justice for Bilkis Bano

Authored by Pratyaksh Jain, a 1st-year law student at Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat & Core Team Member at The Society For Constitutional Law Discussion

Prolonged Pursuit of Justice for Bilkis Bano
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An utter demise of justice was witnessed subsequent to the passing of early remission order to the 11 convicts who raped a 21-year-old pregnant woman, Bilkis Bano, and killed 7 of her family member, including a 3-year-old child, during the 2002 Gujrat Riots. Gujrat riots were a series of inter-communal violence that took place in the year 2002 in the state of Gujrat. This violence took a toll after the train carrying the pilgrim from Ayodhya caught fire, which resulted in the death of 59 people. The reason for the fire is still disputed. But, following the train accident, widespread communal broke out across the state of Gujrat, particularly targeting Muslims. The violence included rape, arson, destruction of property, and mass killing.

This article highlights how a small decision of the Judiciary can have a huge impact on the lives of victims. Firstly, it throws some light on the Bilkis Bano case. Secondly, this article talks about early remission. Furthermore, it establishes that there was no statutory obligation in regard to the passing of this early remission order and the reason for its failure. The most astonishing thing is the delay that the Indian judiciary shows in disposing of the case concerning heinous crimes like rape and murder. Though no best remedy exists for rape victims in the world since the trauma, shame and grief of that one incident stays with her the entire life. The trial process takes years, which, in a humanitarian sense, does not bring justice.

The case of Bilkis Yakub Rasool v. Union of India (Bilkis Bano Case’)

The Rape incident took place on March 3, 2002, after Bilkis and her family travelled from Randhikpur after the riots following the Godhra train burning. On March 3, 2002, Bilkis was raped, being 5 months pregnant, followed by the killing of her family members whose bodies were abstracted from the jungle of Kesharpur. Bilkis was then sent to the Godhra relief camp, where her statement was recorded by the executive magistrate. The local police station took charge of this case until it got shifted, after she approached the Supreme Court seeking a CBI investigation. On December 6, 2002, the case was shifted to CBI for further investigation. CBI DSP took charge of the case from Gujrat police. After investigation, it was found that 109 bodies were found, and no skull was found, which leads to the conclusion that their heads were cut off. On April 19, 2004, CBI filed the chargesheet before the CJM Ahmedabad against 20 accused, including six police officers and two doctors. The case was then shifted to Mumbai and a public prosecutor was appointed on the order of the Supreme Court. In January 2008, 11 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and rape by a special judge at Greater Mumbai, which marked a significant step towards justice for Bilkis. Seven other convicts were acquitted and two were abated during the pendency of the court. From 2009 to 2011 several appeals were made by both CBI and convicts. CBI appealed for the extension of sentence for 3 of the accused to death sentence and moved an appeal against the acquittals of 7 accused vid section 201,217,218 of IPC. Bombay High Court started taking the appeals form in 2016, and by May 2017, it made the decision to uphold the life imprisonment of the convicts and not to extend it. Seven other accused who were earlier acquitted were convicted under sections 201 and 218 of IPC. On April 23, 2019, the Supreme Court directed payment of 50 lakhs as compensation to Bano, along with directing the state government to accommodate her at a place of her choice. Furthermore, the Supreme Court passed the order for the demotion of the police officers by two stages of the convicted IPS officer RS Bhagora in line with the prayer made by bilkis in 2003. Furthermore they were imposed with a penalty of a hundred per cent cut of the pension that they were entitled to after their retirement. On May 30, 2019, IPS Bhagora was dismissed from the post by the Union Home Ministry. Radheshyam Shah, one of the convicts, appealed against the order of the Gujrat High Court, which made Maharashtra as appropriate authority to hear the plea of remission. He argued that he should be awarded remission since he completed 15 years and four months of his life term. On 15 August 2022, the convicts were released from the Godhra sub-jail. Bilkis Bano moved a writ petition to enforce her rights through Article 32 of the Indian constitution. Until 2019, she was denied the right to vote, which is the most basic right and most important one given to citizens of India.  Recently, the Supreme Court has nullified the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission to 11 convicts involved in the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven of her family members. The case of Bilkis Bano took years until she got justice.

The Early Remission

The Gujrat exceeded its jurisdictional power in granting remission to 11 convicts of the gangrape in 2022. The remission process can be strongly criticised based on the arguments that the remission was obtained through concealment of the facts. It was held that the order passed by the Supreme Court in 2022, directing the Gujrat government to give early remission, was based on tweaked and misguided facts. Radheshyam, a convict, withheld some crucial information while he was witnessing in the court. He deceived the court by claiming that there was a difference in opinion between the Bombay High Court and Gujrat High Court over his remission. The reason for making this statement can be traced back to his application for remission to the Gujrat Government in 2019. However the Gujrat government ordered that the appropriate authority would be Maharashtra Government. He approached the Maharashtra Government, but seeing the pendency of his application at various stages, he was afraid of rejection of his plea of remission. Therefore, he wanted the Gujrat government to consider his remission application. The Supreme Court has erred by not paying heed to the Judgment in V Sriharan (2016), which held that the state in which the trial takes place should be the appropriate government. Gujrat government itself, in 2022 agreed on the fact that Maharashtra is the appropriate authority. However, Gujrat usurped the Maharashtra Government Jurisdiction and abused its discretion. It was held by Justice Nagarthana that law is above everything else, and SC cannot grant liberty to 11 convicts on the basis of ‘emotional appeal’ after the convicts had abused the remission process. If ultimately rule of law is to prevail and the impugned orders of remission are set-aside…then the natural consequences must follow.” Judgement said.

Was Remission Given Because of Any Statutory Obligations?

According to Articles 72 and 161 of the Indian Constitution president and the governor, respectively, have the power to grant remission, commutation, etc; these executive powers need to be exercised on the aid and advice of the council of ministers. The Supreme Court was correct in rejecting the early remission since this remission did not constitute any kind of breach of liberty. Article 21 of the Indian constitution says that no person should be denied liberty except by the law. This liberty that was granted in an order dated 10.08.2022 was non-maintainable since it was granted without any jurisdiction. According to Section 433A, the remission for life imprisonment can be given only after 14 years have been served. According to procedural history, 14 years were though completed on the date of passing of the order. But Under Section 433 of CrPC, the sentence may be commuted to a lesser one by the appropriate government. Initially, the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat government to admit the application for early release, which was in itself a step taken in the wrong direction by the Supreme Court and correcting its mistake, the honourable court recently quashed the early release.

The Supreme Court of India has laid down various factors for granting remission in Laxman Naskar v. State of West Bengal (2000). Five factors laid down are:

  1. Whether the offence is an individual act of crime without affecting the society at large?

  2. Whether there is any chance of future recurrence of committing a crime?

  3. Whether the convict has lost his potentiality to commit a crime?

  4. Whether there is any fruitful purpose of confining this convict anymore?

  5. Socio-economic condition of the convict’s family.

Further, in 2006, SC in Epuru Sudhakar v. State of AP laid down the factors on the basis of which judicial review of an order of remission can be done. The factors are as follows: 

  1. non-application of mind;

  2. order is mala fide;

  3. the order has been passed on extraneous or wholly irrelevant considerations;

  4. relevant materials kept out of consideration;

  5. order suffers from arbitrariness.

Failure of This Remission

The present remission undermines the principle of the rule of law. It may fail to maintain the faith of the judiciary in the eyes of the citizens, particularly on sensitive matters like this. The remission power should be exercised under certain restrictions and not as per the will and wish of the political realm. The court laid emphasis with respect to the lack of authority at the Gujrat Government’s end. Section 432 of CrPC gives the power to the state government to remit or suspend a sentence. The definition of appropriate government under CrPC would be the place where the trial and conviction of the accused occurred. Instead, the Gujrat government resorted to territorial argument. They argued that since convicts were imprisoned in Gujrat, the jail authorities of Gujrat would have a better idea regarding their behaviour. But this argument was not in line with section 432(7) of CrPc, which reads the definition of ‘appropriate government’ as the ‘the state within which the offender is sentenced’. This early remission may affect society at large and may give the impression to other victims of heinous crimes that justice is in the hands of the powerful and can’t be gained through legal process. This may lead to the reporting of a lesser number of cases, and hence, the legal system fails to fulfil its duty to enforce justice. Their early remission can give hope to these 11 convicts as well as others that no matter how heinous a crime they commit, they can get an early remission. Various important things on humanitarian grounds need to be considered before passing orders that are related to heinous crimes like this and should not passed on an omnibus basis but be individually considered. All the victims were clubbed and were considered as one while considering the plea for remission. 


The Gujarat government misused its power to remit depending upon the 1992 policy and the good conduct of convicts during their imprisonment. Good conduct cannot be a concrete and reasonable reason to release convicts who have committed such a heinous crime. Can this good conduct during imprisonment be taken as an excuse for the commitment of such a heinous crime?  If that is the case, then every convict will be remitted before the completion of his/her sentence. By passing this remission order, Bilkis Bano is not only entitled to delayed justice but also deprived of the inalienable right of liberty. This incident no doubt proved to be an eye-opener for everyone. This is not just a case but a struggle of a woman in seeking justice for being traumatised by and after such a heinous crime was committed to her. Long cases like this cannot give justice or peace. Bilkis has to fight for justice once again due to their early remission, despite the accused being convicted. This early remission leaves us with two questions. Firstly, why was this early remission given in the first place to convicts of heinous crimes like these? Secondly, why should we even think to remit those who didn’t give a thought before committing rape to a five-month pregnant woman of about 21 years of age?

“Today it is Bilkis, Tomorrow it could be anyone” - Supreme Court

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