The tragic story of Bilkis Bano, and her journey to justice

The Supreme Court while hearing a plea of Bilkis Bano on April 23 has directed the Gujarat government to pay a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to gangrape survivor Bilkis Bano. The apex court has further asked the Gujarat Government to provide her a government job and accommodation as per rules, newswire agency ANI reported. In March 2019, she had refused to accept Rs 5 lakh compensation offered by the Gujarat High Court.

Bilkis Yakub Rasool also known as Bilkis Bano, has shown the world what a woman can do and continues to be an inspiration for many of us. Her story might bring goosebumps to you but she fought for justice and turned it into a tale of heroism.

February 27, 2002, Sabarmati Express returning from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad was halted near the Godhra railway station. The train had several Hindu pilgrims that were returning from a religious ceremony held at the demolished Babri Masjid site. Under mysterious circumstances, the train caught fire burning four coaches and taking the lives of 59 people. This incident triggered violence and gave birth to ‘2002 Gujarat Riot’. There were several outbreaks of communal riots against the minority Muslim population. Among the many cases is the ‘Bilkis Bano case’.

March 3, 2002, when horrifying communal violence engulfed central Gujarat, a truck carrying 17 people, including 19-year-old Bilkis who was five-months pregnant then and her family, was moving to Radhikpur Village in Dohad district to find refuge. This truck was attacked by a mob of 35 people and soon the attackers descended on it. Around three hours later, Bilkis woke up to find herself naked amidst the 14 dead bodies. Her three-year-old daughter’s head was allegedly crushed on a stone by an attacker whom she later identified as Shailesh Bhatt.

Bilkis stayed at the top of the hillock for a few hours and later took refuge with an Adivasi family. This was not the only rape case during the communal violence, but fighting for justice was something other victims never chose. But Bilkis did. She knew the rapists were people who belonged to the majority and proving herself right or submitting any evidence was tough. Bilkis was an illiterate but knew that she needs to register a complaint. Filing a complaint at that time when Muslims were attacked was itself a challenge to her. She headed to the Limkheda Police Station but was unfortunately turned away. She was even threatened. But that didn’t stop her.

A year after the incident Bilkis filed a complaint and this time the case was registered but soon closed due to inconsistencies in her statements. Even this time she didn’t give up. She approached the National Human Rights Commission and filed a petition at the Supreme Court and soon a CBI probe was asked in the case. She along with her family members and witnesses were threatened and this led her to petition the Supreme Court to move the case out of Gujarat. The court agreed and soon the case was moved into Maharashtra. This move gave a ray of hope to her.

The case was moved to Bombay High Court and a prosecutor was appointed. Soon charges were filed against 19 people including a doctor and six police officers. In January 2008, 11 people were charged for rape and murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment. The names are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Bhagwan Das Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.

CBI argued that the attack was pre-planned and the death penalty should be given to three men – Govind Nai, Jaswant Nai, and Naresh Kumar – convicted in the rape and murder case. CBI told the court that it was the rarest of the rare case and the death penalty should be awarded to give out a stern message to the society. On May 4, 2017, the Bombay High Court convicted seven people (five policemen and two doctors) under sections 218 (not performing their duties) and section 201 (tampering of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On July 10, 2017, the top court dismissed the appeals of two doctors and four policemen, challenging their conviction. One of the officers did not appeal.

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