Hours after the Supreme Court set aside the premature release of 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the 43-year-old said on Monday that she felt she could “breathe again”.

The court set aside a Gujarat government order that granted remission to 11 men convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for gangraping Bano and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 communal riots in the state. A bench comprising Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan directed the convicts to surrender before jail authorities within two weeks.

Commenting on the verdict, Bano said that she smiled for the first time in a year-and-a-half. “Today is truly the New Year for me,” she remarked. “I have wept tears of relief...It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again.”

Bano thanked the Supreme Court “for giving me, my children and women everywhere, this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all”.

The convicts had been released on August 15, 2022, after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy. They were welcomed with garlands and sweets.

Bano said on Monday that when the convicts were released, she “simply collapsed” and felt that she had exhausted her reservoir of courage. She thanked those who subsequently expressed solidarity with her, saying that they gave her the will to struggle.

Bano also said that her lawyer, Shobha Gupta, never allowed her to lose hope and “walked with me unwaveringly for over 20 long years”.

“Even as I absorb the full meaning of this verdict for my own life, and for my children’s lives,
the dua (prayer) that emerges from my heart today is simple – the rule of law, above all else and
equality before law, for all,” Bano’s statement concluded.

What did the court say?

The judges held that the Supreme Court’s May 2022 order directing the Gujarat government to decide on the convicts’ remission was secured by suppressing facts and playing fraud on the court.

Justice Nagarathna stated that the Gujarat government did not have the power to pass the remission order. The government of the state where the trial had taken place, which in this case is Maharashtra, is the appropriate authority to pass such orders as per Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, she held.

Regarding the Supreme Court’s May 2022 verdict, the bench said that one of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah, had suppressed material facts to get a favourable order, which led to the release of all 11 convicts.

Also read:

Supreme Court quashes remission to 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano case