More than a week after 11 convicts - serving life term sentences in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case - walked out of jail, the Supreme Court of India on Thursday heard the challenge against their release. Chief Justice NV Ramana had said on Tuesday that he would consider listing the matter.
During the hearing, the top court stressed: "We have to see whether there was an application of mind or not. This court didn't order for their release but only asked the state to consider remission as per the policy."
"Day in and day out, those who have served out their terms are granted remission as per the policy," the court stressed, issuing notices to the Centre and the Gujarat government on the petition challenging the remission. The court also directed for making 11 convicts as parties to the plea.
Bilkis Bano was escaping the violence during the 2002 Gujarat riots when she was gangraped. The convicts also murdered seven members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter. The release of the 11 convicts - who had served about 15 years of their jail term - on India's Independence Day under the Gujarat government's remission policy had triggered huge outrage. This was after one of the convicts approached the Supreme Court, saying he had been in the prison for more than 15 years.
Anger over convicts' release
Opposition leaders across the country had slammed the BJP, ruling in Gujarat and at Centre, for the move. Trinamool Congress's Mahua Moitra was among one of the petitioners who challenged the release.
Not just the remission, but the subsequent felicitation of the convicts had sparked huge anger. Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis earlier this week had said the "felicitation could not be justified". "There was no need to raise Bilkis Bano case here (in the House). The convicts have been released after completing nearly 14 years in jail. They were released following a Supreme Court order. But it is wrong if any accused is felicitated. An accused is an accused, and such acts cannot be justified," he said. Recently, over 6,000 citizens - including prominent activists - had also written to the SC on the convicts walking out of jail.
Among other who objected was one of the judges who convicted the 11 men in 2009. "While the remission was legal, was it just?" retired justice Umesh Salvi said at an event earlier this week.