“Give Me Back My Right To Live Without Fear And In Peace”: Bilkis Bano

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Bilkis Bano requested the Gujarat government to revoke the move.

New Delhi:

In her first statement after the release of 11 men, including those convicted of gang-raping her and murdering seven members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Bilkis Bano on Wednesday said the move had “shaken her faith in justice”.

“Two days ago, on August 15, 2022 the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again. When I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my 3-year-old daughter, had walked free,” she said.

“I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – how can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma,” she said.

“The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone, but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” Bilkis Bano said.

“No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision. I appeal to the Gujarat Government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe,” she added.

Bilkis Bano was 21 when she saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her toddler daughter. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared “missing”. The woman, who was five months pregnant, was then gang-raped.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, had sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

They were freed as the nation celebrated 75 years of Independence on Monday and greeted with sweets, hugs and garlands by groups linked to the ruling BJP.

Opposition parties have strongly hit out at Prime Minister Modi over the move that came within hours of his praise for “Nari Shakti” in his Independence Day speech and said this is the “real face” of New India under the BJP.

The Gujarat government has defended its decision to release the 11 men, saying it considered the release plea as per a 1992 policy, as directed by the Supreme Court, because that was in effect at the time of the conviction in 2008.

A later policy (2014) of the state, and another recent one by the centre – both governments run by the BJP – say convicts in such heinous crimes should not be released. “But the 1992 policy, which applied here, did not have such an exception,” Gujarat Home Secretary Raj Kumar has said, citing a technicality.

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