Recently the special court in Maharashtra gave the first significant verdict related with the Gujarat violence of 2002.Ã‚Â 12 persons were given life sentence for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano by Judge U.D. Salvi. It was highly reassuring to see the institution of judiciary finally standing up and delivering its duty in a very significant way.
But no less important was the courage, grit and determination shown by the victim Bilkis Bano. This woman who was just 20 years old when the carnage happened went through a trauma that we shudder to even listen. On March 3, 2002 her family was trying to flee the village of Randhikpur, around 250 kms from Ahmedabad amidst the post-Godhra carnage. A mob attacked them and 14 members of her family were brutally killed. Her three year old daughter was snatched from her and the head of the child was smashed on a stone on the ground. They stripped the already six-month old pregnant Bilkis as well as her mother and her cousin and gang raped them till she fell unconscious. The culprits were her neighbours from the same village and easily recognizable.
From this absolutely pathetic situation Bilkis started showing what exactly courage means. She walked down and borrowed some clothes from a tribal woman and than later went to file the FIR. The sub-inspector Somabhai Gori, who has been convicted, refused to register the case. The policemen harassed her to keep quiet and filed a completely different complaint. A doctor couple, who has been released on bail, then fudged the post-mortem reports of the mutilated bodies of her killed relatives and produced a report full of discrepancies.
But finally on her perseverance the case started in Ahmedabad in 2002. The Sessions Court acquitted many of the policemen and the doctor couple. She was then helped by Jayanti Rani who helped Bilkis Bano insist that she did not expect a fair trial in Gujarat. In an extraordinary move the Supreme Court moved the case to Maharashtra in August 2004. In a prior relocation of the Best Bakery case the apex court had remarked “The public prosecutor appears to have acted more as a defence counsel than one whose duty was to present the truth before the court…The court in turn appeared to be a silent spectator, mute to the manipulations and preferred to be indifferent to the sacrilege being committed to justice”. The CBI was handed over the investigation and they arrested the 20 accused on Nov 22 of 2004. The trial finally began in Mazgaon in a special court on Feb 21, 2005.
During this whole time Bilkis lived in a constant danger to her life as she was the prime witness. She kept on moving locations for six long years and even today she lives at an undisclosed location. From any standards it is quite clear that she has shown a very high level of mental toughness where we all saw the case of Zaheera Shaikh (from Best Bakery Case) who kept on flip-flopping under coercion and greed. The same would have been tried on Bilkis too and she surely has shown the highest levels of her character. Getting into her shoes to imagine the trauma that she went through six years back and then a precarious life that she has lived since then to get justice, shows her determination and courage to fight back.
She continues to show the same character and equanimity in her thoughts. After the verdict she said “Yes I am satisfied with the quantum of sentence to those convicted. But I will fight till those doctors and others discharged are also convicted…My plan is to educate my children and live hereinafter in peace.” It is people like Bilkis and an institution like the Supreme Court which keeps the faith of the common man intact.
Many today say to forget about the crimes and tell that it is time now to move on. But just focussing on the layers of this case will show that the environment is still not there to move on. Just before the day the final verdict was going to be pronounced by the Special Court reportedly Bilkis Bano’s father and 60 other Muslim families shifted from their village fearing repercussions. Bilkis Bano still lives in an undisclosed location and says that she will never return to her village. Even after the verdict she is asking the Gujarat government to reassure her and her family of security. What more disturbing can it be from the fact that the culprits who relished in their inhuman acts in the Tehelka expose are still enjoying their life with no accountability!
I cannot see how the time has still come to move on. If Bilkis still lives in fear it just shows that the observations of the Supreme Court given around four years back are still valid. Narendra Modi has won again and continues unabashed in his lies and half-truths. His acceptance which started with Arun Jaitley just after the 2002 carnage has now moved on to Arun Shourie and Jayalalitha. The change in attitude can happen only from within the BJP if it can have the honesty to search its heart and if its Chintan Baithaks can become an exercise in peeping in its heart rather only an exercise of the mind. But then who touches its ‘poster boy’?
The message for now is that if you can win an election then damn the constitutional duties, damn the official prerogative and damn the human rights. If Election Commission makes sound against any of these then damn the election commission. The Supreme Court is still too sacred to be touched…for now.