'Faith in justice shaken': Bilkis Bano on rape convicts' release
Two days after the release of 11 men, who had been convicted of raping her during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano has broken her silence on the same with a heart-rending statement. Bano said their release has "shaken" her faith in the Indian judicial system. In a statement released by her lawyer Shobha Gupta, Bano expressed shock at the Gujarat government's decision.
- Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when riots broke out in Gujarat, post the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach.
- On March 3, 2002, Bano and her family were attacked by a mob that raped her and killed her family members at Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad.
- The 2002 Gujarat riots reportedly led to the death of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.
Bano said that upon the release of the rape convicts on Monday (August 15), the "trauma of the past 20 years" washed over her again. Adding she was bereft of words and numb, Bano said, "I trusted the highest courts in our land, I trusted the system... The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice."
In a short but strongly-worded statement, Bano questioned, "How can justice for a woman end like this?" She added that no one had even inquired about her safety and well-being before the decision to free the convicts was taken. The survivor appealed to the Gujarat government to undo the decision and give her back the right to "live without fear and in peace."
Bano has also been concerned about her safety ever since the convicts were released, as per her lawyer Gupta. "Till the men were jailed, she had spent years in hiding, constantly shifting home," Gupta told NDTV. A "shell-shocked" Bano, in her statement, also appealed to the Gujarat government to "ensure" that she and her family "are kept safe."
The 11 convicts serving a life sentence were released from a sub-jail in Godhra on Monday and welcomed with sweets. Their release—on the 76th Independence Day—came as a shocker to many, especially due to the heinous nature of their crimes: gang-raping Bano and killing seven of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter. They were released as part of the Gujarat government's remission policy.
In 2008, a special CBI court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 accused to life for raping a pregnant woman, murder, and unlawful assembly. The Bombay High Court upheld the conviction later. Seven others were acquitted for lack of evidence; one died during the trial. In 2019, the Supreme Court directed Gujarat's government to provide Bano a Rs. 50 lakh compensation, government job, and house.