“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 opens up for the first time, hours after her rapists are released under a special remission scheme by Gujarat government.
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), she tells Vibes of India.
“Independence day brought the bad news. All my freedom, rights and security have been snatched”, Bilkis says. “I suddenly have lost faith and trust in everything around me. Now, do you think anyone can help me in this country? Yes, I have lost the battle”.
Bilkis Bano, like several other Muslims, was a victim of majoritarian violence leashed by Hindus after 59 kar sevaks died in the Sabarmati express train in Godhra in 2002. Bilkis Bano was gang raped and 17 of her community members including her mother and a daughter besides four other family members were killed by a frenzied mob. Bilkis Bano spiritedly fought for justice. However, on August 15, 2022, eleven men who had raped her were released from Godhra sub-jail by the Gujarat government under a special remission scheme citing their exemplary behaviour in jail.
Though the BJP in Gujarat and the Centre have decided not to react on the issue, it must be noted that the Gujarat government has allowed the release of the 11 prisoners convicted for the crime despite a notification by the ministry of home affairs in June that said rape convicts cannot be released under a special release policy for convicted prisoners as part of the “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” celebrations.
A very disheartened Bilkis Bano refused to be interviewed on video or photographed. “Enough of everything”, she said. She asked her husband Yakub Rasul to react.
Yakub told Vibes of India, “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 on 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.
The 11 Rapists soon after being released from Godhra sub-jail.
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 in various places, without any fixed address and adequate security, the family feels more insecure now that the rapists are out on the streets.
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”.
The Bilkis Bano 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, brutality and sheer ruthlessness.
Bilkis, who was five months pregnant and a resident of Randhikpur village in Dahod district, Gujarat had fled her village with her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Saleha, and 16 other extended family and community members. They decided to migrate after the accused wreaked havoc in her home following the killing of 59 kar sevaks in Sabarmati Express in Godhra.They were stopped by a frenzied crowd near Chhaparvad village in Dahod district.
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.Her mother was killed after she was raped.
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 the 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.
Bilkis ran pillar to post for justice. She demanded that the case be shifted to Mumbai as she did not expect justice in Gujarat. The CBI also stepped in then.
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.