Bilkis Bano, the survivor of one of the most horrific rape cases during the 2002 Gujarat riots, has said the release of the 11 rapists has “shaken” her faith in justice. Her first statement since the release two days ago, hinted at a sense of deep hurt and betrayal. It has left her “numb” and “bereft of words”, she said.
“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma… My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” said the woman, whose fight for justice went on for 18 long years.
The short statement also hinted at shock at the Gujarat government’s move to release the convicts without any consultation with her. “No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision,” she said.
There was also a request for the Gujarat government. “Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” the statement read.
Safety has been a big concern for the woman since the rapists were released, her lawyer Shobha Gupta had told NDTV. Till the men were jailed, she had spent years in hiding, constantly shifting home. After the release, she has been too shell-shocked to consider the next steps, to take thought of safety or any legal step.
Bilkis Bano was 21 when she saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her daughter, who was just three years old. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared “missing”. The woman, five months’ pregnant, was then gang-raped.
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, had sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
The rapists walked free as the nation celebrated 75 years of Independence on Monday and were greeted with sweets, hugs and garlands by groups linked to the ruling BJP.
Opposition parties have strongly hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the move, which came within hours of his praise for “Nari Shakti” in his Independence Day speech and said this is the “real face” of New India under the BJP.
The Gujarat government has defended its decision to release the 11 men, saying it considered the release plea as per a 1992 policy, as directed by the Supreme Court, because that was in effect at the time of the conviction in 2008.
A later policy (2014) of the state, and another recent one by the centre – both governments run by the BJP – say convicts in such heinous crimes should not be released. “But the 1992 policy, which applied here, did not have such an exception,” Gujarat Home Secretary Raj Kumar has said, citing a technicality.