News Frontliner Web Desk, 23 April 2019: On a day when the third phase of the seven phase Lok Sabha election 2019 was going on, the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment ordered the Gujarat government to pay 2002 communal riots victim Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano ₹50 lakh as compensation in two weeks time, a government job and housing in the area of her choice. The judgment once again refreshed the memory of Gujarat burning, after the Godhara episode.
Bilkis Bano who was gang raped in the aftermath of the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat had earlier refused to accept the offer of ₹ 5 akh and had sought exemplary compensation from the state government in a plea before the top court. Fourteen of her family members were killed, including her three year old daughter. Bilkis Bano was pregnant at the time of the riots.
Bilkis Bano described this verdict saying her stand has been vindicated and ascertained her faith in the judiciary. “I want justice, not revenge. I want my daughters to grow up in a safe India,” the gang-rape survivor who has been fighting against all odds since 2002 said after the high court’s decision.
Earlier on January 21, 2008, a special court had convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment 11 men for raping Bano and murdering her family members, while acquitting seven persons including the policemen and doctors. The Bombay High Court in 2017 had upheld the life imprisonment of 11 persons. The Supreme Court in July 2017 dismissed appeals of the two doctors and four policemen including an IPS officer challenging their conviction by the high court saying there was “clear-cut evidence” against them.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi while delivering the judgment said Ms. Bano was a witness of the “devastation” of her family. It noted how her infant daughter was “smashed” against the wall in their house before her very own eyes. Ms. Bano was pregnant when she was gang-raped by a mob, which also killed members of her family at Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002.
Chief Justice Gogoi observed that there was no point looking at the past and pointed out that the need of the hour is to rehabilitate the victim who, according her lawyer, is living a nomadic life in a hand-to-mouth situation, having lost all.
The arguments in the court should focus on the compensation to be paid to her. “In today’s world, money is the best healer. We do not know whether it can heal all, but what else can we do for her… Ask for whatever compensation you want and we will pass orders accordingly,” Chief Justice Gogoi said.
When Gujarat government counsel Hemantika Wahi tried to object, the Chief Justice turned to her saying, “you are lucky, we are not observing anything against you… How many years has this case been pending?”
The court also ordered the Gujarat government to withdraw the pension benefits of three police officers involved in the case.
Bilkis Bano has shown the world what a woman can do and continues to be an inspiration for many of us. Her story might bring goosebumps to you but she fought for justice and turned it into a tale of heroism.
Gujarat riots under the then Narendra Modi led BJP government in the state was even criticized by the contemporary Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP.