Days after the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in the Nirbhaya case, Bilkis Bano, a gang rape survivor from the 2002 Gujarat riots said she wants “justice not revenge”. Addressing the media in the capital, a resilient Bano said “My faith in justice has been restored with the judgment but it should not take so long.”
At 19, Bano was brutally gan-graped while 5 months pregnant and left to die. 14 members of her family, including her 3-year-old daughter were killed in front of her eyes in the post-Godhra riots.
15 years later, the Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld the life sentence of the 11 accused as well as convicting 5 policemen and 2 doctors for covering up the heinous crime. They rejected the CBI plea for death penalty for 3 main accused.
Bilkis Bano along with husband Yakub Rasool during the press conference. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Vijay Hiremath, her lawyer said, “I could not sleep for five days when I first read her testimony.” He added that their next priority would be to ensure that the accused did not get out on parole, which exposes the family to threats and intimidation.
The road to justice has not been easy for Bano and her family, moving home almost 25 times during this period. “I used to get nightmares and cry a lot. I had no one to fall back on after losing my family,” she said. She acknowledged the role of civil society organisations who supported her in this arduous journey.
Timeline: Long road to justice
- March 3, 2002: Bilkis Bano, 19, gang-raped and 14 members of her family murdered.
- March 25, 2003: Limkheda judicial magistrate accepts report effectively closing case. Inconsistencies cited as reason.
- April 2003: Bilkis approaches National Human Rights Commission, which requests senior counsel, Harish Salve to represent her in the Supreme Court.
- December 18, 2003: Supreme Courts directs the CBI to undertake investigation.
- February 11, 2004: CBI files interim report highlighting complicity of Gujarat police.
- July 2004: Bilkis files petition requesting transfer of case outside Gujarat.
- August 6, 2004: Supreme Court transfers case to Bombay High Court.
- May 2005: Bilkis cross-examined for 20 days.
- January 18, 2008: Bombay Sessions Court verdict holds 12 guilty, acquitting 5 police officers and 2 doctors.
- 2009-2011: Convicted accused file appeal in Bombay High Court. CBI files appeal for enhancement of punishment of 3 main accused and against acquittal of 7 others.
- May 4, 2017: Bombay High Court upholds conviction of 11 accused, overturning the acquittal of 7 others.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, her husband, Yakub recalled living in fear, “We never knew if we were safe, we would double check if the door was latched at night. We used to carry our little children to the court for the hearings.” Bano, often had to breastfeed her daughter in between breaks in the court. Yakub, who lost his livelihood, has been doing odd jobs to support the family. They now hope to start a new chapter of their life, without fear.
He added, “My eldest daughter wants to become a lawyer so she can help other women like Bilkis get justice.”