“Chukado saro aavyo che. Hu bahu khush chu (The judgment is good, I am very happy),” Bilkis Bano told The Indian Express, hours after the Bombay High Court upheld the conviction and life terms of 12 persons held guilty in the case of her gangrape during the Gujarat riots of 2002.
The court also set aside the acquittal of seven persons, including policemen and doctors. In March 2002, Bano also lost 14 of her family members, including her two-year-old daughter, in the riots.
Speaking over the phone from Deogadh Baria in Dahod district, Bano, however, expressed regret that the court dismissed an appeal filed by CBI seeking death penalty for three of the convicts. She also said that she would approach the Supreme Court to seek “fansi” (death sentence) for the accused.
Bilkis said that her agony has been “deeper” because the convicts were her neighbours in Randhikpur village in the tribal belt of Dahod. But, she said, she was finally “feeling a sense of justice” after the High Court refused to overturn the life imprisonment awarded to the convicts and validated the CBI’s investigation in her case.
Bilkis seemed overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised to see that police officers and medical staff of the government hospital who fudged records and did not do their duty have been convicted, too. She feels that it’s a big step in awarding justice for her suffering. She is also greatly relieved of the tension of losing the case in the higher court.
As news of the High Court upholding the lower court’s judgment reached her, Bano was with her husband Yakub, their five children and friends and relatives at Deogadh Baria town.
Yet, she was reluctant to provide any details of her four daughters and a son. She said that her eldest daughter, born after the trauma of the riots, was 14 years old and studying in school. But her husband Yakub, who was a milk trader earlier, is now jobless.
Yakub said, “Why don’t people understand that we don’t have any security? Give us security and we will share all details about us, our suffering and our children. Do you know that the convicts were not always kept in Mumbai jails? They kept getting parole. We are not free. When they are out on parole and in the area, we feel insecure.”
Yakub said “fear is a constant presence” in their lives.
Asked about her village, Bilkis said softly, “I miss Randhikpur. I went to the ‘gaam (village)’ only once, with a TV crew. Yaad to bahu aave che pan shun kariye? Mane daar lage che (I miss my village very much but what can be done? I am afraid).”
According to Yakub, Bilkis still “gets sick” when reminded about that nightmare in 2002 when she ran for her life with her family members.
Bilkis, meanwhile, regrets that nobody from the Gujarat government came forward to inquire about her plight. She said that she does not know the details of how much aid she she got from various governments. “(But) I haven’t got full compensation from the Gujarat government,” she said.
Yakub said, “In the last 15 years, the Gujarat government did not come to us even once to ask about her physical injuries and damage to our property. We got money from the central government but not a paisa for the injuries caused to Bilkis… We have been shifting our house over the last 15 years.”