The Bombay high court on Thursday upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of 12 people in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case of the 2002 Gujarat riots while setting aside the acquittal of seven persons including policemen and doctors.
The court also dismissed an appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation seeking death penalty for three of the convicts.
Bilkis, who was gang raped in March 2002 at a time when she was pregnant, said her rights as a woman, and mother were violated in the most brutal manner and the verdict "vindicated truth", and "upheld" her faith in the judiciary.
Seven of her family members were also killed in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning incident.
A division bench of Justices V K Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar said, "The appeal against conviction filed by the 11 convicts (one of them is dead) is dismissed. The conviction and sentence is upheld."
"The appeal filed by the prosecution against the acquittal of seven persons (in the case) is allowed. The acquittal is set aside," the court said.
The seven persons, who include five policemen and two doctors, are convicted for not performing their duties (sections 218) and tampering of evidence (section 201) of the Indian Penal Code, the bench said.
"We will consider the period undergone in jail of these seven persons as their sentence. But we will impose a fine amount on them," the court said.
Each of the seven persons, who was convicted, has been directed to pay a fine of Rs 20,000 within eight weeks.
The convicted policemen and doctors are Narpat Singh, Idris Abdul Saiyed, Bikabhai Patel, Ramsingh Bhabhor, Sombhai Gori, Arun Kumar Prasad (doctor) and Sangeeta Kumar Prasad (doctor). Now 18 people stand convicted in the case.
In a statement to the media, Bilkis said, "My rights, as a human being, as a citizen, woman, and mother were violated in the most brutal manner, but I had trust in the democratic institutions of our country. Now, my family and I feel we can begin to lead our lives again, free of fear.
"I am happy that the State and its officials who emboldened, encouraged, and protected the criminals who destroyed the life of an entire community, are no longer unblemished, but today stand charged with tampering of evidence. For officers of the state, whose sworn duty is to protect citizens and enable justice, this should be their great moral shame, to bear forever," she added.
The court had last year reserved its judgement in the appeals filed by 11 persons convicted in the case and also the appeal filed by the CBI for capital punishment to three of them.
A special court had on January 21, 2008, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment eleven men in the case.
They later approached the high court challenging their conviction and sought for the trial court's order to be quashed and set aside.
The CBI had also filed an appeal in the high court seeking harsher punishment of death for three of the convicted on the grounds that they were the main perpetrators of the crime.
According to the prosecution, on March 3, 2002, Bilkis Bano's family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad during the post-Godhra riots and seven members of her family were killed.
Bilkis, who was five months pregnant at the time, was gang-raped while six other members of her family managed to escape from the mob.
The trial in the case began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the CBI evidence tampered, the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004.
The 11 convicted are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.
The convicts had challenged the order on three main grounds -- that all evidences in the case were fabricated by the CBI, that Bilkis gave birth to a child after the incident proving that she could not have been gang raped, and the failure to discover the bodies of some of her family members proved that they were not killed.
The CBI had sought enhancement of punishment for three of them- Jaswantbhai, Govindbhai and Radhesham Shah -- on the grounds that they had raped Bilkis.