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Bilkis Bano’s case is a fine example of the victory of a woman’s undeterred courage and resolve over a gross attempt of violation of women’s rights and the apathy of the state!
“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 after Supreme Court passed the epic judgement on April 23rd 2019, directing the Gujarat government to pay Rs. 50 lakh as compensation to her along with a government job and accommodation.
Trigger alert: graphic violence
The directive came out after a prolonged fight and suffering of 17 years, of facing not just death threats but also apathy from the state government. The story of Bilkis Bano while being one of immense courage, resilience and undeterred determination, is also of justice delayed but not denied.
The epic judgement by the Supreme Court of India last week has brought alive yet again the painful memories of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Bilkis Bano’s case is one of the worst occurrences of communal gang rapes in the history of India. On March 3rd 2002, 14 members of her family were attacked and brutally murdered when they were trying to flee the violence which had broken out as a result of the Godhra incident. Those killed in this pogrom included her mother, sister and her three-year-old daughter Saleha whose head was smashed against a rock mercilessly right in front of Bano’s eyes. Bilkis was just 19 then and was five months pregnant with her second child. She was mercilessly gang-raped by these men who took turns to make sure they did enough to violate her in the name of religious revenge.
The devastation and violation inflicted upon Bano were more than enough to send her in a state of an eternal trauma. However, Bilkis Bano rose above all her pain and filed a complaint against her perpetrators right after the incident. She knew that this journey of seeking justice wouldn’t be easy; nevertheless giving up wasn’t an option she had kept for herself. She persisted and persevered against all the odds in this struggle of 17 years. The journey involved a constant fear of retribution, death threats and nomadic life of changing homes numerous times during the course of this journey.
Her initial complaint was rejected, closed falsely alleging unavailability of sufficient data. Bano didn’t give up. With the efforts of NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) and her advocate Shobha Gupta, the case was transferred to Mumbai by the intervention of Supreme Court in 2004. Based on the substantial evidence procured and furnished by CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), on January 21st 2008, a special court convicted and sentenced to life 11 men for the incident while acquitting seven persons including the policemen and doctors accused of tampering with the evidence. On May 4th 2017, the High Court convicted seven people, five police officers and two doctors under charges of not performing their duties and tampering of evidence.
Supreme Court’s last week’s order came on a petition filed by Bano demanding enhancement of compensation awarded to her by the Bombay high court. Bano had refused to accept Rs. 5 lakh as compensation that was offered to her by the state and approved by the High court in March this year.
At a recent press conference held post the Supreme Court’s ruling, when Bano was asked about what kept her going for the past 17 years, she said, “On March 3 during the riots, I saw the devastation of my family, I lost my daughter… I had nothing more to lose and that gave me the courage to struggle on.” She continued, “We never got back Saleha’s body, we couldn’t even bury her and perform her final rites, and for that I am filled with sorrow till this day.” said Bano. “Perhaps this judgement will help bring some kind of peace.”
She added that she was happy with the order and the exemplary compensation. “Now I hope I can give my child a stable home and life. I also hope that my daughter will grow up and become a lawyer who can defend others. I also want to use part of the money to help other women survivors of hate and communal violence to seek justice,” shared Bilkis who was accompanied by her husband Yakub and her advocate, two pillars who have stood firm with her in the course of this perilous journey.
Bilkis Bano’s story is one of inspiration, courage, resilience and true determination. Her journey is also is an example of a confirming faith in the judiciary of the country where impunity is a norm and we hardly see any closures. The judgement fills me with hope and reassurance. It did take time but finally was delivered in a manner which upheld citizens’ belief in constitutional values.
Bilkis Banu stands as my true feminist hero today because she chose to fight back and raise her voice. Because she kept treading on a path which she knew would be full of challenges yet didn’t give up. And, she is clear of her plans about how to use the compensation which is one of its kind in the history of this country.
As Bano said, “The judgement has vindicated my truth and upheld my faith in the judiciary.” Salute to Bilkis’s invincible spirit and her one of its kind victories in the history of this nation!
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