Bilkis Bano rape case: All 11 convicted men return to jail as Supreme Court deadline ends

Court overturned initial ruling five months after group was granted remission by state authorities

The release of 11 men convicted of rape and mass murder during the 2002 sectarian riots in Gujarat sparked outrage across India. AFP
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All 11 men convicted of the gang rape of a woman and murder of her family members returned to jail in India’s western state of Gujarat minutes before a deadline set by the country’s top court expired late on Sunday.

The men were found guilty of raping Bilkis Bano during sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. They were released on August 15 last year – India’s Independence Day – after being granted remission by the Gujarat government, a move that caused nationwide outrage.

Ms Bano, a Muslim, was sexually assaulted and 14 of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter, were killed by a Hindu mob during one of the deadliest episodes of religious violence in the country since its independence. She was five-months pregnant at the time.

Ms Bano challenged the state's decision in the Supreme Court, which on January 8 overturned the men's release and ordered them to return to jail. The court said the Gujarat government had no power to grant the release and that it "usurped" powers.

The men arrived at the Godhra sub-jail in Panchmahal district at about 11.30pm local time on Sunday amid a heavy police presence.

Some of the men requested more time before surrendering to authorities, giving reasons including a family wedding and the demands of the harvest season, but the court rejected their efforts on Friday.

The men were convicted of mass murder and violent sexual assault in 2008 by a special court in Mumbai, in neighbouring Maharashtra state, in a case that made international headlines.

The were given life sentences, which can range from 14 to 30 years in India, in a ruling upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017. Their convictions were later upheld by the Supreme Court, which awarded Ms Bano five million rupees ($62,000) in compensation in 2019.

One of the offenders, Radheshyam Shah, asked the Supreme Court court for remission, saying he served more than 15 years in prison.

The court asked the state government to make a decision and it announced the release of the 11 men based on their “age, nature of the crime and behaviour in prison”.

But this month the Supreme Court said the ruling last year, which was issued by a different bench, was incorrect.

The release of the 11 men last year sparked anger across the country and women's protests in the capital New Delhi. Images and videos showing them being given sweets and garlands outside jail led to widespread condemnation and street protests.

More than 6,000 Indians, including writers, activists and former government officials, signed a petition urging the judiciary to revoke their release.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 10:21 AM