Bilkis Bano has been “in acute shock” since 11 men convicted for raping her 20 years ago were released by the Gujarat government, her lawyer Shobha Gupta told LOKJANTA STAFF today. “She had started to learn to live in peace without having to run from one place to another to hide herself, look for her security. I cannot even tell you in words what kind of thing the family is in right now. They don’t know how to react,” she said.
Asked whether they are going to challenge this legally, Ms Gupta said they have not yet decided what to do. “She still has to come to terms (with this). For her, the battle was over with the last order of the Supreme Court in 2019, when the compensation was granted and it was the highest-ever compensation in a rape case in this country. She was learning to live her life peacefully,” she added.
The men were released by the Gujarat government without consulting or even informing Bilkis Bano, Ms Gupta told LOKJANTA STAFF in an exclusive interview. She is living “practically next door to them” and should have been informed in view of her safety concerns, the advocate pointed out.
“For the last two days, her husband Yakub has been calling me, asking if the Supreme Court is doing anything. There were rumours in their village and sweets were being distributed. He said, ‘They are saying the Supreme Court has granted them early release’. I said, ‘What are you talking? Nothing of that sort has happened. We have no news about it.’ We had to dig up everything after getting to know. It is a shocker. Even I am unable to come to terms with it yet,” she said.
Bilkis Bano, 21 years old at the time, saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her toddler daughter. Then the woman, who was five months pregnant, was gang-raped.
The attack took place on March 3, 2002. The family was hiding in the fields near Ahmedabad to escape the violence that had erupted after a coach in the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze and 59 kar sevaks were killed.
For 20 years, Bilkis Bano was on the run as her fight for justice was on, Ms Gupta said. “She had started to learn to live in peace without running from one place to another, hide herself and look for security,” she said. Even Justice Ranjan Gogoi had made the point when her case came up in the Supreme Court, she added.
Justice Gogoi was the Chief Justice of India at the time and a bench led by him had granted Bilkis Bano a job, a house and Rs 50,000 – the highest compensation in a rape case at that time.
Asked about the Gujarat government’s decision on remission at a time the Central guidelines for “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” make it clear that convicts of rape and murder cannot be granted the privilege, Ms Gupta said the Centre is not alone in making this exception.
“Even the Supreme Court in a number of judgments, its various constitution benches… The policy of remission is always very clear. In the latest constitution bench judgment, it says it (remission) is not a matter of right. It is a benefit given to a convict after meeting certain tests,” she said.
In an earlier interview, Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of AIMIM, said the Gujarat government had released the convicts in violation of the guidelines of its own home ministry.
Ms Gupta also questioned how a bulk release could have been ordered when only one convict had filed a petition for remission of term. “How is it possible that all 11 had improved?” she said.