Bilkis Bano case: Acquittal of five policemen set aside

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Thursday rejected a CBI plea seeking the death sentence for three of the 11 convicts for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano but set aside the acquittal of five policemen.

Bano was 19 years old and pregnant when she was subjected to the horror during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In its plea in 2016, the CBI had said the case fell under the category of 'rarest of rare' cases and the life term awarded by a lower court to three -- Govind Nai, Sailesh Bhat and Jaswant Nai -- should be enhanced to death penalty.

Justice Vijaya Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar did not agree but set aside the acquittal of five policemen by a trial court.

Accepting the Central Bureau of Investigation plea, the court directed the agency to launch a fresh probe against the policemen.

The CBI said the three prime accused gang raped the then five-month pregnant Bilkis Yakub Rasool, her mother and her sister.

Bhat also snatched Bilkis Bano's three-year-old daughter and pounded her head with a stone, resulting in instant death, the CBI said, seeking death penalties for all three to "send out a stern message" to the society.

Bano and her husband Yakub on Thursday hailed the verdict and expressed satisfaction saying that justice had been finally done to them.

The horrifying incidents occurred in Randhikpur village near Dahod on March 3, 2002 when Bilkis Bano and around a dozen of her family members were attacked by a mob. Many of those attacked were killed.

Only Bilkis Bano and two relatives, Saddam and Husain, survived the savagery. Her mother, sister, minor daughter and other relatives were killed.

With this verdict, Justice Tahilramani and Justice Bhatkar have upheld the life sentence awarded to all the 12 convicts (one of whom is now dead).

The court also accepted the CBI plea to quash the acquittal of five Gujarat policemen and two medicos accused in the case.

The policemen - charged with tampering of evidence by fudging documents and compromising the inquest panchnama (diary) - had been acquitted by a trial court in January 2008.

The trial court had also found guilty and convicted a total of 12 other accused sentencing them to life imprisonment, which has now been upheld by the Bombay High Court.

The 12, including one who passed away, had appealed against the life sentence. The CBI wanted three of them to be given the death sentence.

The trial court in Mumbai had slapped life imprisonment on Govind Nai, Sailesh Bhat, Jaswant Nai, Bakabhai Vohania, Radheshyam Shah, Bipinchandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania and Pradeep Mordhiya.

Following Bano's appeal in the Supreme Court, the case was transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra amidst apprehensions that key witnesses may be intimidated or influenced.

"I am very grateful that this verdict delivered by the honourable judges, has yet again, vindicated my truth, and upheld my faith in the judiciary," Bano said in a statement issued through her lawyer, welcoming the verdict.

"My rights, as a human being, as a citizen, woman, and mother were violated in the most brutal manner, but I have trusted the democratic institutions of our country. Now, my family and I feel we can begin to lead our lives again, free of fear," she added.

Commenting on the quashing of the acquittal of the five policemen, Bano expressed happiness that the state and its officials, who emboldened, encouraged and protected the criminals, who destroyed the life of an entire community, "are no longer unblemished, but now stand charged with tampering of evidences".