Where are the Bilkis Bano case convicts now? Have the police 'mislaid' 9 of them?

While the Dahod police force claims the remitted convicts are 'visiting relatives', conflicting reports talk of locked houses and the men being off at Ram Mandir seva

One of the men convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and assaulting her family as he is escorted away from the special court after the verdict of guilt. He can be seen laughing into the camera (photo: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
One of the men convicted of gangraping Bilkis Bano and assaulting her family as he is escorted away from the special court after the verdict of guilt. He can be seen laughing into the camera (photo: Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NH Digital

Where are the 11 convicts ordered to surrender again to their jailers in the Bilkis Bano case?

Some of their neighbours claim at least nine of them have gone "missing" instead, per reports in the Indian Express, the Financial Express, Mint and other newspapers.

A senior police official in Dahod, where all 11 convicts live, said on 8 January after the Supreme Court verdict that the police had not yet received any order regarding the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case.

A police force remains deployed in the area where the convicts live to maintain peace since Monday, 8 January, he said. However, a report in the Financial Express said locals in Dahod district have spoken of 9 of the 11 convicts being missing from the villages of Randhikpur and Singvad.

The Supreme Court quashed the Gujarat government's decision to grant them remission and ordered their surrender to the jail authorities in 2 weeks. The Court also slammed the Gujarat government for abusing its powers in the matter.

The 11 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by a CBI special court on 21 January 2008. All of them were then released on 15 August 2022, Independence Day, by an order of the Gujarat state government granting them remission. The state government has said in its deposition before the Supreme Court that its order was passed after an approval from the Central government was obtained. Like in the state, the ruling party at the Centre at the time was the BJP—a case of the vaunted 'double engine' government.

According to a report in the Indian Express, Akhambhai Chaturbhai Raval (87), father of one of the convicts, Govind Nai (55), blamed the conviction on a “political vendetta of the Congress” and has claimed Govind Nai left home “a week ago”. However, per the Financial Express, a local police officer has claimed that he left home only on Saturday, 6 January.

His parents told reporters that they are a “Hindu faith-abiding family, incapable of committing the crimes”. They expressed a wish for their son to get a chance to see the Ram Mandir consecration and offer seva there, though they said he will of course go back to jail since that has been ordered now.

Raval’s brother Jashvant Nai is another convict in the case.

While the Nai family at least was reportedly visible to local eyes until Sunday, 7 December, another convict—Radheshyam Shah—has not been seen at home for "the last 15 months”! His father Bhagwandas Shah said he “doesn’t know where Radheshyam is", per the Financial Express, and that he left home with his wife and son.

Interestingly, several neighbours and shopkeepers from the village square reportedly attest that nearly all the convicts were publicly seen until Sunday—including Radheshyam. All of them, however, remain tightlipped on the verdict.

So what happened after Sunday? “You won’t find them now," one villager reportedly said, "All of them locked their houses and left.”

Neighbours of the Shahs, the Bhatt family includes brothers Shailesh Bhatt (65) and Mitesh Bhatt (58), also convicts in the case. The Shah family is unaware of the Bhatt brothers' current whereabouts, though.

The convicts are at least "not incommunicado" per the local police, though—or so claimed Dahod superintendent of police Balram Meena on 8 January. Some of them are visiting relatives, he said.

The SP's claim will seem familiar to those who have followed the case from the start, as similar difficulties were seen in producing them before the court during the trial, to the point that the court had to direct that an ad be published as the accused could not be reached in person.

Nevertheless, SP Meena said, "Police have not received any information (regarding their surrender), and we have not received the copy of the (Supreme Court) judgement." Which apparently explains the force's complacence for now.

So, for now, a constable is stationed outside each of the convicts’ homes as part of the police bandobast—whether they are within or not. Apparently, the concern is inter-communal rioting more than keeping track of the convicts.

Sub-Inspector R.N. Damor, for example, is stationed outside the residence of Pradip Modhiya (57), another convict who is 'absent'. Damor told the Indian Express that Modhiya left early on Monday and should return soon “since he also left his vehicle (a bike) here”.

One more who could not be contacted by media was Ramesh Chandana (60). Residents of his village, Singvad, said he no longer lived there and is now primarily based in Godhra. His son-in-law, who lives not far from the Modhiya home, said that Chandana was “not in a state to talk... even over the phone". Presumably the police have his number, though reporters were not able to obtain it.

Another 'non-resident' convict seems to be Bipinchandra Joshi, who is now based out of Vadodara, say his neighbours.

Bilkis Bano, then 21 years old and five months pregnant, was raped while fleeing from the communal riots that had broken out in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident in 2002. Her three-year-old daughter and six other immediate family members (and 14 members of her extended family) were killed by a mob.

Their bodies were never recovered.

With inputs from PTI

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