Bilkis Bano — who saw 14 family members being slaughtered and suffered a gangrape during the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat — hopes her quest for justice will end next week.
Additional sessions judge UD Salvi is expected to deliver the verdict in Mumbai early next week. The judgment has taken time coming. It's been nearly six years since the communal fire that raged in Randhikpur, a sleepy town 250 km from Ahmedabad, ruined Bilkis Bano Yakub Rasool's life.
Riots, then rape, murder
Riots had already broken out in other parts of the state, Randhikpur was tense on March 3, 2002. Bilkis Bano's family was trying to leave the village. And before the day ended, 17 members of the minority community had been attacked in the riots that followed the Godhra train carnage.
Eight were killed, six others reported missing, three — Bilkis Bano, master Hussain and Sadaam — survived.
Investigations and charges
It was a planned attack, said RK Shah, CBI's special public prosecutor.
According to the prosecution, the conspiracy was hatched between February 28 and March 3. Of the 20 accused, 12 locals allegedly attacked the victims and gangraped Bano, who was six months pregnant then. Identified by her, they have also been accused of sexually molesting her other family members and assaulting them.
Six police officers have been arrested for shielding the 12 accused. The officials reportedly refused to take down Bano and her relatives' complaint, instead forcing them to sign some papers and threatening them not to disclose the incident to anyone. And finally, a doctor couple, who conducted the post-mortem of seven bodies recovered from the scene of the crime, has been arrested for fudging reports.
Defence lawyers has submitted that there is no specific evidence against the accused. Before Bano was examined, a lawyer also requested the court to transfer her custody from social workers to an independent agency, claiming there were chances of tampering with the witness.
Shift in venue
The trial began in Ahmedabad but the Supreme Court transferred it to Mumbai on August 6, 2004, after Bano expressed fear that "the witnesses and CBI would come to harm in Gujarat".