I'll never return to my village: Bilkis Bano
In a life fraught with uncertainty, Bilkis is certain that she will never return to her village Randhikpur in Godhra.india Updated: Jan 23, 2008 15:12 IST
A Mumbai court has sent 11 of those who raped her and killed 14 of her family behind bars for life, but there is no closure yet for Bilkis Bano Rasul for whom the horrors of that March day in Gujarat six years ago live on.
In a life fraught with uncertainty, Bilkis is certain that she will never return to her village Randhikpur in Godhra from where her neighbours had chased her and her family members away.
Six years after the carnage in Gujarat claimed at least 1,000 Muslim lives, the polarisation seems complete.
"I will never return to my village. All our belongings were either burnt down or looted, our cattle whisked away and our house burnt down. The land is there. Where will it go? But it is lying barren."
"My father goes there sometimes. But I have no heart to return to that place anymore," said the woman who knew little about the world outside before Feb 27, 2002 when 59 Hindus were killed inside a train in Godhra station.
Four days later, Bilkis' life came to a standstill as anti-Muslim riots raged in the state.
On March 3, then six months pregnant with her second child, Bilkis, her mother and sister were stripped in public and gang raped till she fell unconscious.
When she regained consciousness, she found that 14 of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter, had been killed. Her child's head had been smashed with a stone.
Since then, the "simple housewife", who has become a symbol of courage in the face of the most brutal adversity, has evolved into a dogged fighter. The mother of two, a one-year-old child and a six-year-old daughter who was in her womb when she was raped, has fought a relentless legal battle against her tormenters.
She has successfully taken on and won against the entire Gujarat government and its police and secured punishment for most of those involved in the crime.
On Monday, a Mumbai court sentenced 11 of those convicted for her gang rape and the killing of her relatives to life sentence while a police officer guilty of concealing evidence was sentenced to three years in jail.
Her mission is still incomplete.
"Yes I am satisfied with the quantum of sentence to those convicted. But I will fight till those doctors and others discharged are also convicted."
"Before the riots I was just a simple housewife. I had been married only a few years and had a daughter and was expecting my second daughter," Bilkis told IANS.
"My plan is to educate my children and live hereinafter in peace," she added simply.
But she is still not clear where and how she will settle down and what she and her husband Yakub Rasul will do for a living.
"We hope to do something and settle somewhere. My husband and I are still not very clear about this."
"Before the riots, we had land, we had five to 10 buffalos and another five to six bullocks. My husband's family used to make a living by selling milk."
Encouragement from her husband, friends and the community gave her the strength to fight for her rights.
"A lot of people gave me the courage to fight. My husband gave me courage, my community gave me courage. Then I said I surely will not lose faith and courage and stand up to fight," she said.
Bilkis hopes to carry on this fight with the help of activists whom she met at the Godhra camp and who have been pursuing the case relentlessly since then.
"Gagan Sethi, Farah Naqvi, Malini Ghosh and Huma Khan have not just helped me fight my legal battle all these years but have also been a great source of sustenance for me and my family," Bilkis said.
Of the 20 accused in the case, seven were acquitted last Friday. They include five police officers and two doctors. The doctor couple, Arunkumar Prasad and Sangeeta Prasad, who were charged by the CBI of manipulating the medical evidence when the mutilated bodies of her family were found, was present in the court on Monday when they were officially released from the case.