The defence of the accused in the Bilkis Bano case on Friday rubbished the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case, saying Bilkis’s statements before the court were “full of lies”.
The 11 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by a trial court in 2008 for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of seven members of her family in the aftermath of the Godhra riots. The convicts had subsequently filed an appeal in the High Court, challenging the conviction.
On Friday, the hearing of the appeals began with senior criminal lawyer Harshad Ponda starting the defense’s arguments. Shortly after he described the case in a nutshell, Ponda attacked the CBI for falsely implicating his clients. He argued that the CBI’s theory about the involvement of the 11 men was false and based on Bilkis’s “lies”.
On March 3, 2002, during the 2002 post-Godhra riots,17 members of Bilkis’s family were attacked by a mob in Randhikpur village, 250 km from Ahmedabad. Eight of her family members were killed and six were reported missing. Bilkis, then 19-and-5-months pregnant, was gang-raped. The attackers also gang-raped and murdered her mother Halima and cousin Shamim.
Among those murdered were Bilkis’s three-year-old daughter Saleha and Shamim’s two-day-old child.
Ponda argued, “The prosecution’s case that there was a newborn is false. There was no such child. Bilkis Bano is lying.” After the incident, Bilkis had climbed on the top of a hill and stayed there till the next day.
Looking for a rag to cover her naked body, she had walked back and found a woman who helped her with clothes. Two men, who are witnesses in the case, had taken her to the police station.
Ponda argued that Bilkis was forced to sign the FIR at the police station. Justices V K Tahilramani and Mridual Bhatkar, however, questioned the delay in carrying out the spot panchnama on March 5. According to the arguments, an inquest panchnama was carried out on March 5.
Ponda said that after the seven dead bodies had been exhumed, the police got photos of the site. However the photos, he claimed, were not genuine. According to the prosecution’s case, he said, of the seven bodies, two were of males and five of females.
“But the photos show three male bodies. Besides the person who clicked the photo, the developer and the person who gave the camera all have denied the prosecution’s case. How can there be three bodies when statements show there were only two?” Ponda said.
He added, “There was no body of a two-day-old child.”
After her interaction with the police, Bilkis had been taken to a relief camp for the victims of the Godhra carnage. Ponda’s case is that records at the camp do not show Bilkis’s arrival at the camp on March 5 as claimed by the CBI. “It shows she reached on March 6,” he said.
Ponda said Bilkis met two women at the camp and one of them was her relative. “The social workers there tutored her,” he claimed. Bilkis, he said, changed her statements, time and again. “Initially she had said that accused No 1 to 3 had raped her. Later she identified the three men standing in the front when asked to identify,” he said.
Ponda also pointed out that though Saleha was said to have been killed, she was in the police’s missing persons’ report.
The counsel for the CBI, on the other hand, was asked to prepare better for the case and submit a chart with the names of all the victims and their ages, besides the list of all the convicts and the charges against them.