“This is 2022 but I am experiencing the same fear, insecurity and hopelessness as I did in 2002. Suddenly nothing seems to have changed. It feels like 2002,” Bilkis Bano tells Vibes of India.
A woman of much courage and patience, Bilkis says she has lost both of them. “I feel very maayoos. Hum haar gaye”. (I feel very sad and defeated).
“Independence day brought the bad news. All my freedom, rights and security have been snatched”, Bilkis said.
Bilkis Bano says, “I suddenly have lost faith and trust in everything around me. Now, do you think anyone can help me in this country?”
Refusing to be photographed or interviewed on a video, Bilkis says, “Enough of everything”.
According to her husband Yakub Rasul who spoke to Vibes of India in detail, “Bilkis and six of us family members were sitting at home. We had just finished our lunch and switched on the television. It was independence day and suddenly on a local channel, we saw news with Bilkis Bano’s name being flashed. It read that the rapists have been released. First, Bilkis said, it must be fake news. But then my son started changing the channels and we saw it was all over there in different Gujarati channels. Bilkis just got up and walked away.
We all realised that something was happening. So we called up our lawyers. Nobody knew. We were completely clueless”.
Bilkis refused to move. She told Vibes of India that no, she did not cook food too for the family. Totally depressed and pessimistic about her the future and security of her family, the only question Bilkis asked us was: “Arent they supposed to ask me even once or at least inform me about what is happening?”
“The court convicted them. They found them to be rapists. Why are they roaming free”, Yakub asked.
Vibes of India is not revealing where they met Bilkis. Because Bilkis has decided to move out of that home too. Bilkis has changed over a dozen and half homes since 2002. Of course, they continue to wait for a home that the Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to provide. More than five years after the Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to give Bilkis and her family a place they can call home; nothing has moved from the Gujarat government’s side.
Living at various places, without any fixed address, the family feels more insecure now that the rapists are out on the streets.
But life has myriad shades. Even as Bilkis Bano and her family feel insecure and uncertain, hundreds of people in Randhikur and Godhra are celebrating a newfound freedom.
We are all innocent. We were framed just because we believe in a particular ideology: Radheshyam Shah
“I am completely innocent. This woman made life miserable not just for us but our entire family,” says Radheshyam Shah. He, including 11 others, were released yesterday on Independence Day under a special remission committee. Radheshyam had approached the Supreme Court for the release of all those arrested in this case.
“I have spent over 18 years along with others in various jails of Gujarat. Of course, we are all very happy that we have been released but do not forget that we have spent 18 years in jails. Ask anyone in town. We are innocent. We were framed. Just because we believe in one ideology”, Radheshyam said.
Another convict who now stands released said, “We have emerged stronger. And our faith in our ideology has also grown stronger”. All of them shared sweets and some of them chose to wear saffron clothes to celebrate their release.
Radheshyam said, “I am happy that we are being released. But you have no idea of the insults we have been living with. We have lost one Nareshbhai Modhiya who was also framed. Our colleague Jivanbhai lost his wife. Another colleague of ours Bipinbhai Joshi lost his wife after both her kidneys failed. All of us have fought so many battles. And all just because we believe in a certain ideology.”.
Our families have gone through hell.
Interestingly, Radheshyam Shah reiterates that all of them are innocent. “We do not know why we were targeted. We just know that an untoward incident happened with some Muslims after Hindus were burnt alive in a railway train in Godhra. The Muslim incident happened in the jungles near Chhaparwad village. But the then ruling Central Government put all of us in jail”. Radheshyam or his friends do not name BJP or Congress.
Gujarat Government’s Home Secretary Rajkumar told Vibes of India, “Radheshyam Shah approached the Supreme Court to be released under a remission policy. The Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to form a committee to look into it. The Jail Advisory Committee met up twice. They submitted a report following which a decision to release 11 people was taken”.
Panchamahals Collector Sujan Mayatra, who headed the Committee told Vibes of India, “The Supreme Court had ordered the formation of the committee. The committee comprised 8 people including Collector Sujan Mayatra, District Judge, District Superintendent of Police, Local MLA, District Social welfare officer and three invited members.
Vibes of India has not been able to procure the entire report prepared by this committee which was submitted to the home department of Gujarat government. However, a top source told Vo! that the report emphasised on the good behaviour, attitude and similar positive attributes of all the 11 people. Many of them were in jail just for arson and others under arson and rape charges both. The Committee report stresses that there is no danger to the public if these 11 people are released from jail”, the source added. Panchmahals collector Sujan Mayatra added, “I was informed on August 14 that these 11 people should be released from Godhra sub-jail on August 15. That is it”.
Imran Tetra who is associated with Gujarat Today a prominent minority owned newspaper in Gujarat highlights the timeline of the case.
Bilkis Bano, and her family, were among the many victims of the 2002-post Godhra riots in Gujarat but the case stood out for its’ cold-bloodedness and ruthlessness.
Bilkis, who was five months pregnant and a resident of Randhikpur village in Dahod district, Gujarat. She fled her village with her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Saleha, and 15 other family members. They decided to escape after the accused wreaked havoc in her home following the killing of 59 kar sevaks in Sabarmati Express in Godhra.
Bilkis and four women, including her mother, were gang-raped. Of the 17 extended community and family members, eight were found dead on the spot. This included Bilkis’daughter who was killed after she was made to witness her mother’s gang rape. Six were declared missing. The survivors included Bilkis, one of her daughters and a man.
Bilkis remained unconscious for at least three hours after the incident. Thereafter, a poor Adivasi woman gave her some clothes. She then met a home guard who took her to the Limkheda police station where she registered a complaint with head constable Somabhai Gori. Gori, according to the CBI, “suppressed material facts and wrote a distorted and truncated version” of her complaint. The case was transferred to CBI soon after. The CBI had found that the heads of 7 people killed had been chopped off so that their identities could not be established.
The trial in the case was shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bilkis Bano received death threats.
In the Mumbai court, charges were filed against 19 men, including 6 police officers and a government doctor couple. A special court had in January 2008 convicted 11 men. While the 11 were convicted for conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly and under other sections of the Indian Penal Code, the head constable was convicted for “making incorrect records” to save the accused.
Seven persons were acquitted by the court citing lack of evidence while one died during the course of the trial.
The court held that Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya (deceased) raped Bilkis while Shailesh Bhatt killed her daughter, Saleha, by “smashing” her on the ground.
The others convicted are Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Vohania, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana and the head constable of Limkheda police station, Somabhai Gori. Despite being mere bystanders to the crime (excluding Gori), these accused were convicted for rape and murder, as being part of “an unlawful assembly” distributes the liability of the crime, the court observed.
All 11 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Mumbai court.
The Bombay High Court in May 2017 upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of 11 people in the gang rape case while setting aside the acquittal of seven people, including the policemen and doctors.
Why is Bilkis Bano case important
Bilkis Bano case is important because usually rape convicts are not released under any remission policy. Gujarat itself has several rape convicts languishing in several jails. Those serving life imprisonment too are not able to leave jails, in some cases, even after spending 25 years instead of 20 years in jail.
Bilkis Bano’s husband on rapists released from jail watch video here
In June this year, proposing a special release policy for convicted prisoners to mark ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (75 years of Independence), the Centre issued guidelines to states to release those sentenced to life. Rape convicts are listed among those who are not to be granted release under this policy. However, the Gujarat government has its own policy that they took recourse which allows the release of rapists. It must be noted that this policy was framed in 1992. Chimanbhai Patel, then of Janata Dal Gujarat was the Chief Minister and his government was supported by Congress. Later Chimanbhai merged his faction with Congress. So technically, when this policy was framed, it was Congress in power and not the BJP.