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Dim Gujarat memory, verdict in Mumbai

The court relied on Bilkis’ deposition, as well as the statement of her nephew, who was eight years old at the time of incident.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2008 01:20 IST
Urvi Mahajani

The evidence that nailed the 11 men found guilty of gang-raping housewife Bilkis Bano and two other women, and murdering 14 others, during the Gujarat riots six years ago, was the absence of footwear on the dead bodies in the photographs taken by the police after the incident.

A policeman was also found guilty for fudging Bilkis’ statement. During those horrific days, Bilkis Bano and her family was running from village to village, trying to avoid retribution against Muslims after a train carrying a large number of Hindu kar sevaks (religious volunteers) went up in flames in Godhra.

Seventeen Muslims, including Bilkis Bano, were attacked on March 3, 2002, in Devgarh Baria village of Dahod district in Gujarat. Eight were killed, six others were reported missing and three, including Bilkis Bano and two relatives, survived.

The court relied on Bilkis’ deposition, as well as the statement of her nephew, who was eight years old at the time of incident. According to Bilkis, the mob attacked and raped her mother, cousin and her, and killed other family members, on a dirt road from Chhaparwal village to Pannivella village.

Bilkis said she had survived the attack because she pretended she was dead. Later, with the help of home guards she reached a police station in Limkheda taluka, but there the Assistant Sub Inspector Somabhai Gori allegedly refused to take down her complaint. She told the court she managed to reach Godhra Relief Camp two days later, where the next day the district collector Jayanti Ravi recorded her statement. Her nephew corroborated this incident to the judge.

The Gujarat police found the bodies amidst thick bushes a couple of kilometres away from the spot where the rapes took place, and took photographs. In these, not a single body had footwear. Yet the feet did not show any injury marks, which were bound to have shown up if the victims had been running from village to village barefoot.

Moreover, while the panchanama prepared by the Gujarat police does not mention slippers or bangles, the CBI found these items at the spot. This showed that the crime took place at one place, and the bodies were then shifted.

But the court let five of six Gujarat policemen who were accused off the hook because there was no evidence to link them to those found guilty. The sixth, Somabhai Gori, was found guilty. The court also said it had no evidence that the case was politically motivated because the officers took photographs, which showed that they did not want to destroy or suppress evidence. It said they could at most be said to be negligent in performing their duties.