Bilkis Bano convicts received frequent parole while witnesses cited threats
Housewarming, son's wedding, mother's knee replacement surgery, etc. were reportedly some of the reasons cited by 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case for requesting parole (temporary bail) despite witnesses' complaints to authorities about threats from convicts receiving "frequent parole". In some cases, their bail pleas were rejected because of the paroles they "enjoyed"—mainly through appeals to the local administration through Godhra sub-jail authorities.
Why does this story matter?
- Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when riots erupted in Gujarat following the burning of the Sabarmati express train.
- On March 3, 2002, Bano and her family were attacked by a right-wing mob that raped her and killed her family members in Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad.
- Over 1,000 people were reportedly killed in the Gujarat riots in 2002.
Details regarding the issue
The Gujarat High Court denied a plea by Radheshyam Shah, one of the convicts, seeking a 28-day release for his "house-warming celebration" in April 2022. The court, while rejecting the plea, observed that Shah had already served 60 days on parole this year, from January 29 to March 30. Similarly, Shah had requested a three-month interim bail earlier for "his mother's knee replacement operation."
The convicts were released on 'good-behavior' on August 15
Notably, Shah's plea in the Supreme Court only led to an order directing the Gujarat government to grant remission to 11 offenders based on a 1992 policy that enables the early release of life-term convicts. On August 15, the Gujarat government released all 11 convicts for "good behavior" sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 for gang rape and murder amid the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Witnesses, inhabitants complained to the authorities regarding the criminals
Earlier, in May 2019, the Gujarat High Court's Justice Umesh Trivedi denied the parole motion of co-offender Keshar Vohania for his son's wedding. Vohania has already spent 90 days of her six-month sentence on parole between August 2018-March 2019. Between 2017-2020, witnesses and inhabitants of Randhikpur village also complained to authorities that the 11 criminals were "often out on parole" and "threatened" the witnesses.
Witnesses complained even to Gujarat's home minister
In a letter written in February 2021 to Gujarat minister of state for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, the witnesses stated that the accused were "using their time out of jail to attend political events, continue with their businesses, and build bungalows while threatening witnesses." "The witnesses were living "in constant fear of the accused, (who) are technically serving their life imprisonment," it added.
Convict attended BJP events during parole
The letter further stated that Shailesh Bhatt, the fourth accused, "had attended a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) event and shared the podium with elected BJP leaders from Dahod." Other witnesses in the case, Adam Ghanchi and Imtiaz Ghanchi, also filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police in Dahod in 2017 alleging that family members of Shah and Vohania had threatened to kill them.
Convicts are vengeful, repeatedly issued death threats: Witnesses
The complainants reportedly stated that "the convicts were "vengeful and repeatedly (issued) death threats stating that it would not matter if they killed us because they have already been convicted in the (Bilkis Bano) case...They have been out on parole often and threatening everyone.
Accused were forced to record statement in favour of accused
On June 23, 2018, 16 Randikpur residents, including eight key witnesses, reportedly sent a joint statement to the Dahod Collector alleging that Randikpur police station officers were pressuring them to "record statements in favor of the accused." The letter also reportedly requested witness protection in accordance with Supreme Court orders, stating that the relief colony's 24-hour security cover had been withdrawn without notice.