It took six long years, but justice has finally been delivered to Bilkis Bano, the housewife who was gangraped during the 2002 Gujarat riots and 14 of whose family members were massacred before her eyes.
There was chaos in the special court trying the case as it declared 12 of the 19 accused — there were 20 in all, but one died during the trial — guilty. Cries of the convicts’ relatives echoed through the court as it held 11 men guilty of rape and murder, for which they face a minimum sentence of life in jail and a maximum of death.
Also held guilty was a policeman, Assistant Sub-Inspector Somabhai Gori, who framed a false complaint and refused to register Bilkis’.
Although seven persons were deemed not guilty, most of them had little to cheer about. Only three — doctor-couple Arunkumar and Sangeeta Prasad, accused of fudging post-mortem reports, and Deputy Superintendent of Police R.S. Bhagora, accused of inaction after the crime — were released on bail. The remaining four, all policemen, were sent to Arthur Road Jail where they will have to stay till Judge U.D. Salvi pronounces the sentences on January 21.
There was a noticeable change in the courtroom atmosphere as the judge started pronouncing the verdicts. As soon as he left the dais, sobbing relatives hugged the convicts as policemen waited for them to say their goodbyes.
The accused were held guilty on the basis of evidence and photographs produced by the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI) as well as the testimonies of Bilkis and her nephew (name withheld) who survived the massacre. The 12 convicts are: Gori, Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Bipinchandra Joshi, Kesherbhai Vohania, Pradip Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandania. Naresh Mordhiya died during the trial and the case against him was abated. Apart from Bhagora, the police officers found innocent were Narpatsingh Ranchodbhai, Idris Saiyed, Bhikhbhai Patel and Ramsingh Bhabor.
The Bilkis case, along with the Vadodara’s Best Bakery massacre in which 14 people died, had come to symbolise the communal carnage witnessed in Gujarat in 2002. Bilkis and her family, who were trying to flee their riot-hit village of Randhikpur, 250 km from Ahmedabad, on March 3, 2002, were attacked by a mob.
Bilkis, who was six months pregnant at the time, survived, but not before she was gangraped along with her mother Alima and cousin Shamim by Jaswantbhai Nai and Govindbhai Nai. Bilkis’ three-year-old daughter was killed when Bhatt smashed her head to the ground.
The trial initially began in Ahmedabad in 2002, but the Supreme Court transferred the case to Mumbai in August 2004 after Bilkis said she could not expect a fair hearing in Gujarat. The CBI, which was handed over the investigation, arrested 20 of the accused on November 22 that year. The trial began in the special court at Mazgaon on February 21, 2005.