Six years after Bilkis Bano was raped and her three-and-half-year-old daughter along with eight members of her family murdered by a mob in Gujarat’s Dahod district, in the wake of the Godhra riots, justice has finally been done. A special court in Mumbai, where the Supreme Court transferred the case in 2004, on Monday sentenced 11 accused to life on one count of gangraping Bilkis and another of murdering eight members of her family. The 12th accused, a constable, was given three-year term for shielding the guilty. Many of us would think that this was a fit case for capital punishment. Then what stopped the court from not doing so? According to Judge U.D. Salvi, the case did not qualify as the ‘rarest of rare cases’ because the incident was part of the “tension and violence” that prevailed in the state around that time.
Though the judgment is definitely welcome and would go a long way in restoring the faith of the minority community in the Indian-State and the judicial system, there’s no denying the fact that it was Bilkis Bano’s grit and the dogged support of her husband that helped bring the guilty to book. In fact, this was recently acknowledged by the Central Bureau of Investigation Director Vijay Shankar, when he said that it was the “exemplary courage and the exceptional will of Bilkis Bano herself which paved the way for success in the case”. Initially, Bilkis Bano was forced to withdraw her story and when she refused to do so, the local police delayed the investigation. Eventually, it was the CBI probe that sealed the case.
There are many more Gujarat riot-related cases that await justice. By the Gujarat police’s own admission, nearly 1,600 cases relating to the 2002 riots are to be reinvestigated. The decision to reopen these cases came after a Supreme Court order in 2004 to review more than 2,000 cases that had been closed by the police. But such an order will not normalise the situation unless and until the state government proactively tries to reach out to the affected people and ensure an atmosphere when cases could be heard in the state itself. Unfortunately, till now there has been no effort to do so. Is it politics or a lack of desire to get things back on the rails? Either way, many victims still have a long wait ahead.