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She saw it all, dared to fight

Madina Bi never wavered in her mission to bring the killers of her family members to book. Today, she is a symbol of hope to other riot victims, reports Riddhi Shah.

india Updated: Nov 02, 2007 02:12 IST
Riddhi Shah

It’s the proverbial case of David versus Goliath. Madina Bi Sheikh, 38, is no more than five feet tall but her determination to bring justice to her murdered family members has resulted in an impressive victory — eight life terms for rioters in Gujarat. And consequently, the embarrassment of an administration that is fast becoming synonymous with the most large-scale massacre of Muslims in this country’s history.

More than 2,000 Muslims are said to have died in the 2002 riots that tore Gujarat apart, and seven of those slain were part of Madina Bi’s family — whose deaths she witnessed while hiding in a maize field in the village of Eral, some 40 kilometers outside Godhra. “I can still hear their screams. I saw my mother-in-law being stabbed; I saw them rape my daughter and then cut off her breasts before setting fire to her,” she says.

The only people who remain in her family today are husband Mustafa Ismail Sheikh, nephew Feroze Sheikh (both of whom happened to be away on work on March 2) and three children who were let off despite being spotted — but not before Feroze’s son Taufiq’s thumb was sliced off.

And so began the long and arduous journey to bring the perpetrators to book. Along the way, she dealt with threats (“they promised they would force all the Muslims out of the village if we didn’t take the case back”), bribes (“they offered us Rs 25 lakh; I told them I’d pay them the same amount if they let me kill seven members of their family’) and endless sleepless nights.

The threats continue, despite the court verdict. This time, reportedly from men like Purshottan Gordhan, who was let off despite Madina Bi’s testimony accusing him of being her daughter’s rapist. “I get so upset when I realise that these men are out on the streets, shouting obscenities at my husband every time he passes by,” she says.

The sleepless nights continue too. In fact, Madina Bi’s anxiety has gotten so acute that she now refuses to step outside her home — unless it is for yet another visit to the court. “It’s worse for my younger daughter Heena, who witnessed everything with me. She’s almost lost her mind. She can’t study, she refuses to even go to another room alone,” Madina Bi explains. With two of her daughter’s alleged rapists roaming free, the nightmare is far from over; she now plans to take the case to the high court.

The Sheikh case is especially important because it comes at a time when the spotlight is back on the Godhra riots. This is partly due to a sting operation by news outfit Tehelka on the state BJP’s alleged involvement in the pogrom. With the assembly elections a month away, it remains to be seen whether the riots will once again become an election issue.

“But regardless of whether the politicians acknowledge her victory, Madina Bi has sent out a huge message to the rest of the world. That if you stick to your guns, you can win even against the (Narendra) Modi government,” says Jahnavi Andharia of Anandi, an NGO working in the Panchmahals area.

And so, this unassuming housewife from rural Gujarat has inadvertently become a symbol of hope for thousands of riot victims whose cases still languish in courts scattered across the state. “It’s been difficult but we have fought thinking that we died in 2002 too. This is our rebirth,” Madina Bi says.