Gujarat’s Genocide: Bilkis Bano’s incredible pursuit of justice that lasted for 15 years

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Bilkis Bano did not die in the 2002 Gujrat carnage, which many felt had the blessings of the state government run by Narendra Modi, but she suffered countless deaths in the last 15 years.

bilkis bano india's daughter
Photo: Hindustan Times

It was in March 2002, when the Hindutva terrorists went berserk to avenge the burning of the Godhra train. The anti-Muslim genocide lasted for days without any effective intervention from Gujarat’s Modi government. Unofficially, more than 4,000 people lost lives, but the official figure describe the death toll at 1,200. However, no one including the terrorists, who carried out the ethnic cleansing, disputed that an overwhelming majority of those killed were Muslims.

Bilkis was trying to escape the wrath of Hindutva militants in a truck. With her, there were 17 others. Bilkis was five months pregnant.

Hindutva militants stopped the truck, raped her one by one before killing 14 members of her family right before her eyes. Among those killed were Bilkis’s daughter, her mother Halima and cousin Shamim.

The terrorists mistook even Bilkis as dead, but she hadn’t died. She went through incredible pain for days to register a case against the members of Hindutva mob. One can imagine the pain of a 19-year-old girl with five month pregnancy, who was just gangraped and who lost almost everybody in her family to a group of terrorists.

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Far from succumbing to the unending trauma, Bilkis spent days without food and water to reach safety. She was reportedly assisted by a tribal family, who gave her shelter briefly.

Bilkis approached the cops, but they too refused to register her complaint. Instead, the cops, whose role during the genocide was widely condemned, dismissed her case and even threatened her with dire consequences if she went ahead with her case.

Doctors too reportedly refused to carry out a medical examination.

Determined to get her rapists and murderers to book, Bilkis then contacted the National Human Rights Commission of India and the Supreme Court. The apex court directed the CBI to probe the matter. But this led to a series of threats being issued to Bilkis and remaining relatives.

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Bilkis contacted the Supreme Court pleading that the case be transferred out of Gujarat as there were sufficient indications of the matter being manipulated by the state’s BJP government.

The Supreme Court found merit in her plea and decided to shift the case out of Gujarat. This was another indictment of just how compromised the constitutional institutions had become under the Modi government in Gujarat. A glimpse of what’s being witnessed at the national level under Modi as the prime minister.

Charges were filed in a trial court in Mumbai against 19 men including five police officers and two government doctors. The court sentenced 11 accused to life imprisonment in January 2008, six years after the crime was committed. One convict has died since then.

All police officers and doctors were acquitted.

Bilkis appealed the verdict in the Bombay High Court while the CBI too asked the court to consider death penalty for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Radhesham Shah, who, according to the agency, had played a key role in the planning and execution of the crime.

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Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld the trial court’s order against 11 convicts. The court also reversed the trial court’s verdict giving a clean chit to the accused doctors and police officers for tampering with the evidence.

All seven were found convicted on Thursday. Although, the five police officers and two doctors will not serve any more time in jail as they’ve already served their quota of jail term, their new status as convicts must lead to a loss of government jobs.

Thursday’s verdict must give a closure to Bilkis, who’s had to go through an extraordinary delay in justice. Anyone else would have succumbed to her stress and frustration on the system’s failure in protecting someone who’s been so brutally wronged.

But, not Bilkis, who remained steadfast and explored every avenue to seek justice for herself, her two-year-old daughter, who was murdered by the Hindutva mob along with her mother and several other relatives.

The country must salute Bilkis Bano, for she is truly India’s daughter!

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