A New Beginning : Bilkis Bano on the SC Ruling Nullifying Guj Govt's Remission Order - Read What She Says

Bilkis Bano Expresses Gratitude for 8,500 Appeals from Mumbaikars, 10,000 Open Letters, and 40,000 Urges from Karnataka
A New Beginning : Bilkis Bano on the SC Ruling Nullifying Guj Govt's Remission Order - Read What She Says

New Delhi- 2024 might have started as an ordinary year for most of us. Many celebrated the new year at the stroke of midnight and went on with their work, as usual. But for Bilkis Bano, one of the survivors of the barbaric Gujarat riots of 2002, the year had a different meaning. With hopeful eyes, she faithfully looked up to the apex court for justice, as her perpetrators were released by the state government prematurely. Fortunately, justice was delivered.

The Supreme Court on 8th January repealed the Gujarat government's order of early release of 11 men jailed for life for gang-raping her and murdering her seven relatives during the riots.

Bano issued a statement through her lawyer, Advocate Shobha Gupta. The survivor said, “Today is truly the New Year for me. I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and a half. I have hugged my children. It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again. This is what justice feels like. I thank the honorable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children, and women everywhere this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all.”

“I have said before, and I say again today, journeys like mine can never be made alone. I have had my husband and my children by my side. I have had my friends who have given me so much love at a time of such hate and held my hand at each difficult turn. I have had an extraordinary lawyer, Advocate Shobha Gupta, who has walked with me unwaveringly for over 20 long years and who never allowed me to lose hope in the idea of justice.”

“A year and a half ago, on August 15, 2022, when those who had destroyed my family and terrorized my very existence were given an early release, I simply collapsed. I felt I had exhausted my reservoir of courage. Until a million solidarities came my way. Thousands of ordinary people and women of India came forward. They stood with me, spoke for me, and filed PIL petitions in the Supreme Court. 6000 people from all over, and 8500 people from Mumbai wrote appeals; 10,000 people wrote an Open Letter, as did 40,000 people from 29 districts of Karnataka. To each of these people, my gratitude for your precious solidarity and strength. You gave me the will to struggle, to rescue the idea of justice not just for me but for every woman in India. I thank you.”

“Even as I absorb the full meaning of this verdict for my life and for my children's lives, the dua that emerges from my heart today is simple - the rule of law, above all else and equality before the law, for all.”

What had happened to Bilkis Bano?

In February 2002, Gujarat was marred by riots. It all started with the tragic burning of the Sabarmati train carrying 'karsevaks,' resulting in the loss of fifty-nine lives. Fearing violence, a pregnant Bilkis Bano fled her village, seeking refuge in the Chhaparvad district with her family members.

On 3rd March 2002, a group of 20-30 armed individuals, including the 11 accused of later assaulting Bilkis, attacked her and her family. The accused raped Bilkis, her mother, and three other women, while her three-year-old daughter was killed by the assailants. Among the 17 members from Radhikpur village, eight lost their lives, six went missing, and only three survived this horrifying incident.

Despite initial rejections by local authorities, Bilkis, upon regaining consciousness, bravely filed a complaint and sought a medical examination. The case eventually reached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Supreme Court, prompting a CBI inquiry in 2003. The accused were apprehended in 2004, leading to a trial in Ahmedabad. Worried about the safety of the witnesses and the possibility of evidence being tampered with, Bilkis asked for the case to be moved to Bombay. The highest court agreed to her request.

In January 2008, the Special CBI Court sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment for charges including conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder, and unlawful assembly. The convicted individuals, among them Radheshyam Shah, Jaswant Chaturbhai Nai, Keshubhai Vadaniya, Bakabhai Vadaniya, Rajibhai Soni, Rameshbhai Chauhan, Shaileshbhai Bhatt, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Govindbhai Nai, Mitesh Bhatt, and Pradip Modhiya, faced the consequences of their heinous actions. The court acquitted seven additional accused due to insufficient evidence, and one of the accused had passed away during the trial. The court determined that Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, and the late Naresh Kumar Mordhiya were responsible for the rape of Bilkis. Additionally, it found that Shailesh Bhatt had caused the death of Bilkis's daughter, Saleha, by violently smashing her to the ground."

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