Posted by Kouser Fathima
Trigger warning: Rape, Graphic violence, Trauma
The Supreme Court has directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakhs as compensation and to provide a government job to Bilkis Bano who was gang-raped during Gujarat riots of 2002.
Bilkis Bano was gang-raped by a group of men as she and her family were trying to escape to a safer place in a truck. The truck was attacked by a mob and the pregnant Bilkis was repeatedly violated until she passed out and was assumed to be dead. Before she was raped, her 3-year-old daughter, Saleeha, was killed in front of her eyes. 14 members of her family were murdered and all the women members of her family were raped and murdered, leaving her with traumatic memories that continue to haunt her but also as the sole adult witness of the crimes.
Bilkis Bano had gotten back her consciousness about three hours later. In her statement, Bilkis Bano said, “I found myself naked. I saw the dead bodies of my family members lying around. I got frightened. I looked around for some cloth to cover myself. I found my petticoat and covered my body and proceeded in the interiors of the hills nearby.” Bilkis Bano took refuge with a tribal family.
The trauma she must have endured is beyond imagination but Bilkis never stopped fighting for justice, in spite of facing terrible instances of injustice along the way.
More than 1000 people were killed in Gujarat riots, a majority of them being Muslims. While 2000 cases were registered, justice was denied by the state government until the Supreme Court ordered many cases to be reopened. The trauma she must have endured is beyond imagination but Bilkis never stopped fighting for justice, in spite of facing terrible instances of injustice along the way.
The first FIR was filed in Limkheda police station on March 23 but the case was closed citing inconsistency as the reason. Bilkis then approached the National Human Rights Commission and later herself becomes a petitioner in the Supreme Court. The Supreme court asked Gujarat government to stop state CID investigations as the family complained of harassement by the State CID. The case was then handed to CBI which filed an interim report where several gross violations and complicity of Gujarat police were highlighted.
In April 19 2004, CBI filed a charge sheet against 20 people, including six police officers and two government doctors. Bilkis filed an additional petition requesting the transfer of cases outside Gujarat and sought protection for her and her family. On August 6 2004, SC ordered Bilkis’ case to be transferred to a suitable court in Mumbai. On February 22 2005, Bilkis was examined by Special Public Prosecutor. She identified in court the 12 accused who raped her, killed her daughter, and raped and killed other members of her family. Her long struggle resulted in the special court in issuing a sentence to life imprisonment 11 men for raping Bano and murdering seven of her family members in the aftermath of the Godhra riots, while acquitting seven persons including the policemen and doctors. The Bombay high court on May 4 upheld the life sentence given by a trial court to 11 convicted. In addition, the court set aside the acquittal of others and later the five police personnel and two doctors were found guilty of dereliction of duty and evidence tampering.
Her fight for justice has been a long and perilous journey, especially for a twenty-year-old without any formal education and financial backing.
She refused to accept the offer of Rs 5 lakh and had sought exemplary compensation from the state government in a plea before the top court. Her fight for justice has been a long and perilous journey, especially for a twenty-year-old without any formal education and financial backing. She has been incredibly resilient and unyielding in her fight. And since then has moved from court to court seeking justice. The struggle has been tedious for Bilkis and her family as they have been migrating from place to place in search of safety and livelihood. Her husband Yakub had been working on daily wage, their family had moved from Gujarat to Delhi and then Lucknow and were now living in a relief camp in Mumbai. When asked what kept her going, her response was, “When you have seen your entire family, your life destroyed, why will you not fight for justice?”
Bilkis Bano showed exemplary courage when she decided to fight for justice knowing well that it wouldn’t be an easy route. While the judgement is a welcome step in her fight for justice, let us not forget the trauma she faced. “I am happy that the court has acknowledged the pain I had to go through. Finally, the court has accepted it. I have waited for it for so long,” said Bilkis Bano almost in tears, as she addressed the media today.
Rape has for centuries been a weapon used by men during riots, conflicts, and wars. Women generally have no or little say in these situations created by men but are an easy target for men to display their toxic masculinity and to instil fear in the minds of their opponents. Women are seen as property that needs to be violated to demonstrate the superiority of one group or race against another. Stories of mass rapes from conflict areas are chilling, reflecting on the value of women’s lives and dignity. It is disheartening when instances of gross human rights violation fail to evoke large scale public outrage as most of the time, ‘whataboutery’ derails any discussion on the topic while women continue to be raped and violated.
Bilkis Bano, in the truest sense, is a symbol of women empowerment and dissent as she fearlessly fought for her dignity and honour. Though she eventually did garner some support, in the end it was only her grit and determination that guided her in her long fight to victory. “I had full faith in my Constitution and always believed that justice would be done,” were her words on hearing the judgement.
Featured Image Source: She The People