New Delhi: In January 2008, the CBI Special Court in Mumbai sentenced the culprits of the Bilkis Bano case to life imprisonment. However, in a surprising turn of events, on August 15, 2022, under the amnesty policy of the Gujarat government, all the convicts were released from Godhra jail. A recent decision by the Supreme Court, prompted by the petitions of three courageous women, overturned the Gujarat State Government's move and ordered the re-incarceration of the culprits within two weeks, reinstating hope for justice.
One of the fearless women leading the charge against the Gujarat government's decision is former Member of Parliament and senior CPI leader, Subhashini Ali. Ali, 76, is an Indian Marxist politician. She is a Polit Buro Member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She is also the former President of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) and former Member of Parliament from Kanpur.
Expressing her dismay, Ali highlighted the irony of the release coinciding with the Prime Minister's flag hoisting at the Red Fort on Independence Day. She deemed it a dark day for Bilkis Bano, who had been tirelessly fighting for justice. Inspired to act, Ali approached the Supreme Court, joined by various individuals, including lawyer and MP Kapil Sibal and Aparna Bhatt. Having met Bilkis Bano just two days after the 2002 incident, Ali has been a steadfast ally in her quest for justice. She commended the recent decision as a rare instance of the judiciary standing against the government.
The second woman to challenge the government's decision is Revati Laul, an independent journalist and film maker, specializing in looking at politics, violence, hate-crimes and violence against women. Her book, `The Anatomy of Hate' is the first ever account of the perpetrators of the Gujarat riots of 2002. It is published be Westland. Laul, who also runs the 'Sarfaroshi Foundation' in Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, received a call from a fellow journalist urging her to file a collective public interest litigation.
Having closely followed the Gujarat riots in 2002 and witnessed the arrests and convictions, Laul immediately joined the cause, recognizing the importance of the initiative. Laul emphasized the need to support Bilkis Bano and expressed admiration for her courage in the face of adversity.
Ruprekha Verma, a renowned social activist, stands as the third woman who approached the court against the government's decision. An octogenarian, Roop Rekha Verma is former acting Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University, a professor of philosophy. She made news in 2022 when she agreed to stand surety for Siddique Kappan as a condition of his bail. Verma has spent a lifetime fighting caste, gender and religious hatred, and she talks about what made her join the battle for Bano.
The elderly lady condemned the release of the culprits by the Gujarat government, stating that what happened to Bilkis Bano was worse than the initial injustice. She praised the Supreme Court for its honest decision, believing that it has bolstered people's confidence in the judicial system and the rule of law. Verma welcomed the verdict, seeing it as a reinforcement of a sense of security for everyone.
Subhashini Ali, Revati Lal, and Ruprekha Verma, these brave women have played pivotal roles in challenging the status quo, standing up for Bilkis Bano, and contributing to the ongoing fight for justice.
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.