In her first remarks after the release of 11 convicts, serving life imprisonment for gang-raping her and murdering seven members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano on Wednesday said she was shattered by the Gujarat government’s decision and that her faith in justice was shaken.
“Two days ago, on August 15, 2022, the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again. When I heard that the 11 convicted men, who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my three-year-old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this?” read the statement issued by Bilkis’ advocate Shobha Gupta late on Wednesday evening
“The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone, but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” she added.
Expressing apprehension about the safety of her family, Bano urged the Gujarat government to reverse its decision. “Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” she said.
On Tuesday, Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul said they were surprised after coming to know from the media about the release of all 11 convicts. Rasul said he, his wife and five sons, the eldest now aged 20, continue to live without a fixed address, more than 20 years after the incident.
On March 3, 2002, Bilkis Bano’s family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district during the post-Godhra riots. Bilkis, who was five months pregnant at that time, was gang-raped and seven members of her family were killed.
The Supreme Court had in April 2019 directed the Gujarat government to give Rs 50 lakh compensation, a job and accommodation to Bilkis.
The 11 convicts who walked out of the jail were convicted for gang rape of a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under sections of the Indian Penal Code.
While convicting them, the special court had acquitted seven accused citing lack of evidence. One of the accused had died during the course of the trial.
The Bombay High Court had on May 3, 2017 upheld their conviction. It also convicted seven others, including five policemen and two doctors, under IPC sections 218 (not performing their duties) and 201 (tampering with evidence).
On August 15, all the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail after the BJP government in Gujarat allowed their release under its remission policy.
A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of Bilkis Bano’s gang rape and murder of seven of her family members during the communal riots triggered by the torching of a coach of Sabarmati Express by a mob near Godhra station on February 27, 2002.
Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.
The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee. Later, the state government decided on the early release of all the convicts in the case.
However, Opposition parties have slammed the BJP over the release of the convicts, saying the move was in violation of the Centre’s guidelines.