Yakoob Rasool has haunting eyes. And he is distinctly cold and cautious, unwilling to lower his guard. He will not tell you where he lives now. Or what he plans to do. But you will not blame him once you know who he is: the husband of Gujarat riots survivor Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano.
At an undisclosed location in the sprawling heart of Delhi, he is taking a quiet break from a battle that has entered a turning point. A Mumbai court has convicted 12 people, including a police official, for attacking 14 members of Bilkis’ family, in which eight were killed and six went missing.
The Rasools hate Randhikpur — a small hamlet some 250 km from Ahmedabad — where they lived in a small cluster of 60 households belonging to the local Ghanchi Muslim community.
Ghanchis traditionally are members of the Tablighi Jamaat or voluntary Muslim preachers who have now earned the ire of the UK and the US for allegedly being a ready human resource base for Al-Qaida recruits.
Rasool, however, like others in his community, was a cattle-rearer and a milkman. “It’s difficult to believe that the same people who I supplied milk to unfailingly each morning raped my wife in turns and slaughtered my relatives, knowing fully well that Bilkis was their doodhwala’s (milkman) gharwali (wife),” he says.
When Bilkis was raped, like other women, Rasool decided that there was no point hiding it, fearing embarassment. He decided not to rest till justice was done. “Organised sexual violence was used as a tool,” says human rights activist Malini Ghose, who along with colleagues, Lucknow-based Huma Khan and Delhi-based Farha Naqvi persuaded prominent lawyer Harish Salve to take up her case.
Travel back in time. Reflect on what happened in Randhikpur on February 28, 2002, a day after yet-to-be-unidentified people torched a train bogey carrying kar sevaks (Hindu devotees) in Godhra.
It was a sunny morning, calm and cool. Rasool could see that the Randhikpur sky had blackened with thick smoke. When the fires started by mobs reached his doorstep, he knew what was going on. He gathered Bilkis and the women folk and sent them away, choosing to part ways. He thought if the rioters came across an all-woman group, they might spare them. The strategy did not work. On a lonely stretch a few kilometres away, one neighbour raped Bilkis and another shoved his foot into her mouth, as she desperately wanted to tell them she was pregnant. They then tossed her three-year-old girl in the air, knowing that she would smash her head upon landing on the rocky terrain of that road to death in Panevala.
For all this, it’s remarkable when Rasool says Hindu-Muslim unity in Gujarat is possible. “Log agar chahein to mumkin hai, par Narendra Modi ko jaana hoga (This can happen if people want but Narendra Modi has to go).”