National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief during the 2002 Gujarat riots, Justice JS Verma, said the state government’s failure to provide security to Bilkis Bano proved that it was not fulfilling its responsibility and official duties.
Justice Verma, who had initiated the NHRC effort to help Bilkis Bano fight her legal battle, after she met him during his visit to Gujarat in March 2002, said he would be satisfied only after all the riot victims got justice.
“I was shocked to see Bilkis so traumatised. She was unable to talk for nearly 30 minutes when I met her along with social activist Teesta Setalwad at Godhra. I am glad that finally rule of law has been upheld in her case. Her husband deserves praise for standing by her in difficult times”, the former NHRC chairman said.
Responding to Bilkis Bano’s demand seeking security from the Gujarat government, Justice Verma said it was the responsibility of the state to ensure protection for the witness, as it was a part of its official duty. “The failure to do so amounts to non-fulfillment of official responsibility.”
Coming down heavily on the Narendra Modi government, Justice Verma, who was also the Chief Justice of India in 1997-98, said despite many recommendations from the NHRC, “nothing was done to assure the victims that there would be no repeat of such acts”.
Justice Verma, while demitting the NHRC office in January 2003, had written to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to ensure that effective steps were taken for criminal action against those guilty of human rights violations in Gujarat.
Meanwhile, social activist Teesta Setalvad has said the judgement in Bilkis Bano case raised hopes for other riot victims that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
She, however, questioned the Supreme Court delay in other riots cases of 2002. “Already the witnesses have been staying away from their homes for six years, any further delay would only weaken them,” Setalwad said.