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Bereft of Words, Still Numb: Bilkis Bano

The survivor breaks her silence on the release of 11 convicts; words of support for her pour in
BILKIS BANO

On Tuesday evening, Bilkis Bano finally expressed her anguish at the release of 11 men convicted for gang raping her, and killing 14 members of her family including her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Saleha, during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

Her lawyer, advocate Shobha, released a statement on Bano’s behalf. “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 three-year-old daughter, had walked free. I was bereft of words. I am still numb,” says Bano, her shock and trauma evident. She asks, “Today, I can only say this — how can justice for any woman end like this?”

She goes on to say, “I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system and I was slowly learning to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice.”

Bano also sheds light on the complete lack of empathy in the decision, saying, “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman, who is struggling for justice in the courts. No one enquired about my safety and well-being before taking such a big and unjust decision.” She wants the decision to be reversed, “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.”

Readers would recall that on August 15, eleven people convicted in the Bilkis Bano case were freed from Godhra sub jail after a state government panel approved their application for remission of sentence. The convicts who have been freed are: Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana. All these men were known to Bano and her family, some were her neighbours, some did business with her family.

Words of support for Bilkis Bano

In wake of the shocking release of the convicts, several individuals and rights groups have come forward to demand justice for Bano. Bebaak Collective, a women’s rights group issued a statement condemning “the application of the remission policy of the Gujarat government”.

The Collective said, “Bilkis Bano, a fearless and brave survivor of the attempted genocide of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 has had a tough 20-year journey trying to ensure justice is served against the men who wronged her,” and hailed her for carrying on “despite systemic adversities” and now giving into pressure. They asked, “Can sexual assault survivors trust the system anymore?”

Highlighting other examples of injustice, especially to women, they said, “Human rights defender, Teesta Setalvad is in jail for supporting the survivors of Gujarat genocide, including Zakia Jafri, in her fight for justice, while Bilkis Bano’s rapists have walked free!”

“We stand with Bilkis Bano. We stand with Zakia Jafri. We stand with Teesta Setalvad. And we stand with all the survivors of violence and discrimination,” they demanded that “the authorities to cancel the release orders of the rapists and ensure that Bilkis' life and freedoms are safe from further threats by the rapists and their enablers in the political system.”

Similarly, the All India Working Women Forum (AIWWF), a part of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) also released a statement saying, “The release that was recommended by the committee under the Gujarat remission policy is in violation of the Union Government’s guidelines for remission. These guidelines exclude those who are convicted for rape and murder for the benefit of remission. They, in any yardstick, do not deserve consideration for early release. AIWWF – AITUC, while condemning the release, very strongly urges upon the Union government to intervene to withdraw the release of these convicts - rapists and murderers.”

They further said, “The premature release of the rapists brings more outrage now than the wretched pain and desolate anguish of the blood curdling act of gang rape of Bilkis Bano, a pregnant woman and the brutal killing of her family including her three year old daughter. This release is an affront against the doctrine of justice and a slur on the constitutional commitment to protect women. All India Working Women Forum of AITUC terms the release of the rapists and murders as shameful, outrageous and condemnable and demands immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the release and reincarceration of the criminals.”

Bilkis Bano's Statement

Courtesy: sabrang india

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