The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Gujarat government to give Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Bilkis Bano, who was gangraped during the 2002 riots. The compensation is to be paid within two weeks. Bano had earlier refused to accept the compensation of Rs 5 lakh and had sought an exemplary compensation from the state government in a plea before the top court.
Who is Bilkis Bano?
Bilkis Bano, and her family, were among the many victims of the 2002-post Godhra riots in Gujarat but the case stood out for the sheer brutality.
On February 28, 2002, after violence erupted following the Sabarmati Express fire in Godhra, Bilkis, who was five months pregnant and a resident of Radhikpur village in Dahod district, Gujarat, fled her village with her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Saleha, and 15 other family members. They decided to escape after the accused wreaked havoc in her home town on Bakr-Id day setting fire to houses and looting belongings of Muslims.
On March 3, 2002, the family reached Chapparwad village and took shelter in a field connected to a dirt-track going towards Pannivella village. According to the chargesheet, about 20-30 people, including the 12 accused, armed with sickles, swords and sticks attacked Bilkis and her family.
Bilkis and four women, including her mother, were raped and brutally assaulted. Of the 17-member group of Muslims from Radhikpur village, eight were found dead, six were missing. Only Bilkis, a man and a three-year-old survived the attack.
Bilkis remained unconscious for at least three hours after the incident. After she regained consciousness, she borrowed clothes from an Adivasi woman. She then met a home guard who took her to the Limkheda police station where she registered a complaint with head constable Somabhai Gori. Gori, according to the CBI, “suppressed material facts and wrote a distorted and truncated version” of her complaint.
Bilkis was taken to a public hospital for examination only after she reached the Godhra relief camp.
Her case went to the National Human Rights Commission and Supreme Court, which ordered a CBI probe in the matter.
What the CBI found in the case?
This post-mortem, according to CBI was shoddily done to protect the accused. When the CBI took over the investigation, it exhumed the bodies of those killed in the attack. The investigating agency said that there were no skulls in any of the seven bodies. According to the CBI, the heads of the corpses had been severed after postmortem so that the bodies could not be identified.
The trial in the case was shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bano received death threats.
In the Mumbai court, charges were filed against 19 men, including 6 police officers and a government doctor. A special court had in January 2008 convicted 11 men. While the 11 were convicted for conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly and under other sections of the Indian Penal Code, the head constable was convicted for “making incorrect records” to save the accused.
Seven persons were acquitted by the court citing lack of evidence while one died during the course of the trial.
The court held that Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Naresh Kumar Mordhiya (deceased) raped Bilkis while Shailesh Bhatt killed her daughter, Saleha, by “smashing” her on the ground.
The others convicted are Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Vohania, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Nitesh Bhatt, Ramesh Chandana and head constable of Limkheda police station, Somabhai Gori. Despite being mere bystanders to the crime (excluding Gori), these accused were convicted for rape and murder, as being part of “an unlawful assembly” distributes the liability of the crime, the court observed.
All 11 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment by the court.
The Bombay High Court in May 2017 upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of 11 people in the gangrape case, while setting aside the acquittal of seven people, including the policemen and doctors.