The 42-year-old hasn’t heard of the Supreme Court order directing the Gujarat government to provide compensation, and a government job and accommodation, to Bilkis Bano. The last she heard was about the Mumbai High Court verdict upholding life to the accused in the Bilkis case.
Sitting in a two-room apartment in a colony built for the riots-affected Muslims, in Panchmahal district, the 42-year-old says she has spent the past 17 years seeing her case drag on in court, and waiting to be called to tell her story. The only one remaining of her family of eight is her son, now 19, who survived the March 1, 2002, attack with her.
“I still can’t sleep at night,” she says. “I have spent nights and days crying. My son is my only hope, but I am dead inside. My life has not moved from that point.”
The family had fled to the fields that day, to escape a mob of around 200 armed with weapons and petrol that attacked their village. “We spent a day and night without any food or water. Early next day, we came out. My husband owned a small tempo and 38 of us got on, hoping to make our way to Kalol. But midway, near Ambika Society in Panchmahal, we found more armed men and the road blocked with sacks of sand. Our tempo overturned, and they shouted, “Maaro, kaato in musalmaanon ko (Kill, cut these Muslims)’.”
As the men were burnt alive, including her husband, and his father and brother, the 42-year-old says one part of her hoped to be killed too. “I could not imagine living with those visuals of my family members being killed.”
While the women and children managed to flee, the men caught up with them near Goma river. “Someone pulled my hair and pushed me to the ground. They were around 15 men. They took my son away, stripped me and took turns to rape me. When I passed out, they stabbed me in my toe to check if I was still alive. But I did not respond, and they left. When I came to, my two-year-old was sitting close to me and crying. I somehow got up. I could not find my pyjamas so I wrapped a dupatta, and we hid in the fields again.”
She says she spent two days there, too afraid to come out. “I fed farm soil to my son. Later, police came and we were taken to a relief camp. With the help of community leaders, I lodged an FIR at the Kalol Police Station.”
For a year, she says, she lived with her son in a rented place, before moving to the riot victims’ colony. Now she works as a house help, while her son has just completed school. The compensation of Rs 5 lakh received for her husband’s killing ran out long ago.
Her case of gangrape and murder began in December 2010, and has seen more than a hundred hearings. Her case was added onto a case of another person who had lost his family in the killings at Ambika Society (in all, 13 were killed in the incident). Police filed a chargesheet in November 12, 2002, booking the accused under charges of unlawful assembly, rioting, murder, rape, criminal intimation, and “mischief by fire or explosive substance”.
After being heard at the Kalol taluka court, the case was moved to the Godhra Sessions Court and, in 2017, to the Halol Sessions Court. Says defence lawyer Jignesh Pathak, “Almost all the witnesses have been produced, so we are expecting a judgment soon.”
Still to be called even once by court, the 42-year-old says she herself has no idea about the trial, even who the lawyer is. Other witnesses tell her that at every hearing, a new date is given. However, she adds, she is determined to fight. “I can’t sleep, I can’t rest until judgment is declared.” The Bilkis case gives her hope, that “the fight for justice never goes in vain”.
11 convicted for killing 7 of her family, appeals now pending
Sitting on a cot inside her house, the walls recently painted pink, the 57-year-old from a village in Panchmahal district says she has forgotten the date when her daughter and niece were gangraped and later killed along with five other members of her family, while she watched horrified. All she remembers, she says, are their cries and the faces of the perpetrators.
She is also unaware of the Rs 50 lakh compensation awarded to Bilkis Bano. She is happy for Bilkis, she adds. “That is a huge compensation. For us, life is still a struggle.” The government gave her Rs 5 lakh for the rape, death of her daughter.
The village where the family lives is home to people from both communities. A small lane with green flags and a mosque marks the Muslim-dominated part. As soon as the news of the riots broke that day, the woman recalls, all the Muslim families of the area fled, except theirs. “My father-in-law was a retired teacher. He was well-respected, participated in all festivals irrespective of religion and was always ready to help anyone. When everybody left, he said he trusted the people of the village.”
However, with fear growing, they finally decided to hide out in the fields — she, her father-in-law, mother-in-law, her two daughters aged 16 and 7, her son 3, her sister in-law and sister-in-law’s husband and their 15-year-old. Her husband, who worked as a driver in Kalol, had left for the town a day earlier along with one of their daughters.
It was in the fields that the mob, belonging to their village, spotted them. While she managed to hide with her son, the others were caught, says the 57-year-old.
“They were more than 15 men. My father in-law pleaded with them to take our money and let us live. But the men were there to kill. A group of them stripped my daughter and niece. I can still hear my daughter cry, I could do nothing. They took turns to rape them and then cut off their breasts. They lifted the breasts and banged them on the ground again and again, as the girls kept crying in pain. They then set the two on fire along with the others,” the 57-year-old says, her voice breaking.
“I covered my son’s mouth so he would not make a noise. My 7-year-old broke down, but they did not harm her. They told her, ‘You wait here, all your family members are sleeping, they will take you home’. Around 15 minutes after the men left, police came… There was nothing left to even perform the last rites.”
Breaking down again, she talks of her daughter who survived, now 24, who dropped out of school after the riots. Married two years ago, she was sent home a few months ago by her husband’s family. “Even today she keeps breaking down without reason. A tap on the door and she screams. She hardly talks.” Her son and the daughter who had been with her husband were able to go on with their lives, she adds. Her husband still works as a driver.
In the FIR, she named 13 people for killing seven of her family. During police investigation, 16 more people were named. On October 30, 2007, the Godhra court convicted 11— giving eight life imprisonment, and three three years. The accused were also charged with rioting. In 2008, all the accused appealed in the high court, where the case is pending, says prosecution lawyer Suhel Timrizi.
After staying at the relief camp in Kalol for four months, the 57-year-old says, they returned home to find it charred, their valuables stolen. Briefly, the family moved to the Panchmahal colony for riot victims, but then again came back to rebuild their home.
While returning, they left behind the only photo of the entire family together.