Not the rarest of rare cases to warrant death penalty: court
MUMBAI: Special judge U.D. Salvi of the sessions court here on Monday sentenced 11 persons to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2000 on each count in the Bilkis Bano case.
Bilkis, then five months pregnant, and her family were set upon by two jeeploads of men from Randhikpur village in Dahod district during the Gujarat riots on March 3, 2002. Four women and four children were killed and six went missing. She was stripped and gang-raped.
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 were held guilty of murder, gang rape and raping a pregnant woman. They were also sentenced to 10-year rigorous imprisonment for gang rape and raping a pregnant woman. The sentences would run concurrently.
The charges included conspiracy, rioting with deadly weapons, causing disappearance of evidence and unlawful assembly.
Head constable Somabhai Gori of the Limkheda police station was sentenced to three-year imprisonment for framing false records and refusing to lodge Bilkis Bano’s first complaint. He was also fined Rs 3000. Gori has already been in jail for three years and nine months, and has been was suspended from service.
The prosecution demanded the death penalty for Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Shailesh Bhatt, who were charged with raping Bilkis. Bhatt was the man who killed her three-and-half-year-old child Saleha, the prosecution said, adding the attack was pre planned and it happened after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a bandh in the wake of the Godhra train burning incident.
However, the judge ruled that the death penalty could only be given in the rarest of rare cases. In this case, the evidence was blank on the role of each of the accused.
The court observed that during riots many had secret agendas and they were not necessarily crusaders for their religion. Some looted, some plundered, some satisfied their lust and some joined a mob in killing.
The evidence during the trial also pointed out that some Hindus did shelter affected women.
As things stood, all the accused shared a joint liability and the conspiracy theory was proved.
Seven persons were acquitted of all charges — Narpat Singh, Idris Abdul Sayed, Bikabhai Patel, R.S. Bhagora, Dr. Arun Kumar, Dr. Sangeeta Prasad and Ramsingh Bhabor.