Supreme Court understood my pain, says Gujarat gangrape survivor Bilkis Bano
I have faith in the justice system. (The court) understood my pain, what I went through,” said Bilkis Bano, 38, who was granted ₹50 lakh compensation in a case of gang rape that occurred during the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
The amount, which the top court directed the Gujarat government to pay, is likely one of the largest to be granted to a victim of sexual assault and rape in the country, her advocate Shobha Gupta said. “I just want life for myself, my husband and my children,” Bano said, addressing a media gathering on Wednesday.
Her husband Yakub said that he was proud to stand by his wife through all these years. “It’s good for men to stand by women, especially when they have so much strength as Bilkis does,” he said.
Bano’s legal battle of over 15 years began after the state police dismissed her case citing lack of evidence. The top court then ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over in December 2003, who arrested all accused named by Bano.
On Tuesday, the bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also ordered Gujarat state to provide Bano with a job and accommodation, observing that she had lived a nomadic life for 17 years. Since the assault which occurred in March 2002, Bano, her husband Yakub, and five children, including 16-year-old daughter Hazra, have lived in over 20 different locations out of fear of retribution, said Gupta.
Bano, then 21, was five months pregnant when she was assaulted by a mob of Hindu rioters in Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad. Bano lost 14 members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter whose murder she witnessed.
“My daughter, Hazra, wants to be a lawyer to fight such cases (of assault victims),” Bano said. She plans to donate part of the compensation to the legal battle of other sexual assault victims, and the education of their kids, she said. “It’s not about the money,” she said, adding that the court’s message to the state government was most significant.
In March, the SC had directed the state to initiate disciplinary action against police officials charged with investigating the case, whom the Bombay high court had found guilty of destroying evidence, overturning the special court order. The state then stopped the pension benefits of two officials, and demoted RS Baghora, an Indian Police Service officer, by two ranks.
In 2002, Gujarat witnessed the worst communal violence in which thousands of Muslims were either killed or displaced, and hundreds of Hindus left dead, after a coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt down, causing demise of 59 ‘karsevaks’ returning from Ayodhya.