Bilkis Bano tragedy: Jail for defenders, remission for the perpetrators

Remission for rapists and murderers is uncommon. But these murderers and rapists are special. After all, the riots of 2002 catapulted some of them to “supreme” leader status

The convicts in Bilkis Bano case being offered sweets after their release
The convicts in Bilkis Bano case being offered sweets after their release
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Ranjona Banerji

Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt are in jail.

No bail for them.

Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana are out of jail.

Remember their names. These are individuals. Not just people to be grouped together under one umbrella and thus denied responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Who are these people?

Setalvad is an activist-journalist, Sreekumar and Bhatt are former IPS officers.

Their crimes?

As yet, they have not been convicted for any crimes. They have however been arrested following a Supreme Court comment that accused them of being part of a “larger conspiracy” to “keep the pot boiling”, and that added they “should be in the dock”. Bhatt is the only one who had been arrested in an earlier case and now in this case as well.

Legal experts feel that there is no case to deny Setalvad and Sreekumar bail and yet they have been denied bail.

And who are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana?

In 2008, a CBI court in Mumbai sentenced them to life imprisonment for the rape and murder. The Bombay High Court later upheld the sentence.

When released on parole, some of these men threatened their victims and police complaints have been filed against them.

For Independence Day 2022, a special committee appointed by the Gujarat Government decided that these men deserved to be freed from their sentences. Against legal advice. But on the expert advice of several members of the BJP and of some government officials.

These 11 men were convicted for the gangrape and brutal assault of Bilkis Bano, about 21 at the time and five months pregnant, her mother and three other women, and the murder of at least seven people in 2002. Bilkis, her family and neighbours, a group of 17, had run away into nearby fields to escape the riots. They were attacked by a group of 20 to 30 men.

Bilkis lost seven members of her family that day, including her baby daughter whose head was smashed on a rock. Six people are missing to this day.

Look at the date and you know why the BJP was so keen to show charity and goodwill to these rapists and murderers. The riots of 2002 catapulted some of them to “supreme” leader status.

Now we know the crimes of Nai, Nai, Bhatt, Shah, Joshi, Vohania, Mordhiya, Soni, Bhatt and Chandana.

But what are the crimes that Setalvad, Sreekumar and Bhatt (in this case) have committed which so upset the Supreme Court of India that it wanted them to be put into the dock? Have they been accused of gangrape and murder?


Setalvad’s crimes are many in the eyes of some. She has consistently and for decades fought for justice for riot victims and for upholding India’s secular nature. And there you have her main crime in the eyes of the law and the powers in charge.

Setalvad has mainly fought for justice for Muslims who have suffered in riots at the hands of Hindus. Sreekumar and Bhatt spoke out against the riots and the role of the government in them.

This is the pot that they have kept boiling according to the Supreme Court of India’s remarks while dismissing the appeal of another riot victim, Zakia Jafri. A case that Setalvad helped Jafri fight for 20 years.

As for the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, some of them we have been informed by the RSS-owned Vishwa Hindu Parishad are Brahmins and of “good sanskaar” or culture.

Remission for rapists and murderers is uncommon and in fact not part of the accepted rules and norms. But given our illustrious past, must one assume that Brahmins have the right to demonstrate their superiority in manner they deem fit and thus are above and beyond all other convicts?

The caste pot is not being kept boiling, to use a Supreme Court phrase, by Brahmins demonstrating their “good sanskaar” as rapists and murderers?

The National Crime Records Bureau figures for 2020 show that 76 per cent of prison inmates in India are undertrials. That is, of the 488,511 people in jail, 371,848 are undertrials.

I leave those figures with you. And our legal system’s glories as well.

(Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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