Who Is Bilkis Bano? What Happened In 2002 Gujarat Riot

(This article is authored by Alar)

After a Hindu mob raped and killed 14 members of the Bilkis Bano family during the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, the case involving 11 prisoners who were serving life terms for rape and murder was once again in the news on Monday. Bilkis Bano declared that the men's release was "unjust" and that it had "shaken" her faith in justice in an early statement on Wednesday. How this tragedy stormed back to hit the line and who is Bilkis Bano.

It all started with the initial riot incident, the burning of a Sabarmati train in Godhra station on 27 February 2002, which caused the deaths of 58 Hindu pilgrims, which paved the way for further outbreaks of violence in Ahmedabad for three months; statewide, and intiated violence against the minority Muslim population of Gujarat for the next one year. Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time, her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Saleha, and 15 other family members fled from their village of Randhikpur out of fear of the outbreak of violence on February 28, 2002. They sought survival in the Chhaparvad suburbs. On the other hand, on March 3, they came under attack from a group of 20 to 30 people carrying sickles, swords, and sticks. The 11 accused men were one of the attackers. Bilkis, her mother, and three additional women were brutally attacked and raped. Eight of the 17 Muslims from Radhikpur village were discovered dead, and six were still missing. The attack was only survived by Bilkis, a man, and a three-year-old. According to several reports, Bilkis lost unconscious and awoke three hours following the incident and, after procuring clothing from an adivasi woman, went to the Limkheda police station to register.

According to the CBI, "suppressed material facts and wrote a distorted and truncated version" of her complaint. Her case was taken up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Supreme Court, which ordered an investigation by the CBI. "None of the seven bodies had skulls,"  CBI reported back. The lawsuit then began to take shape when Bano was threatened, and the national government transferred the case's venue from Gujarat to Maharashtra in order to appoint a public prosecutor. Nineteen persons, six police officers, and a government doctor were all charged in a Mumbai court for their roles in the preliminary investigations.

In January 2008, a police officer was found guilty of fabricating evidence, and followingly the eleven men were found guilty on May 8th, 2017, and the Bombay High Court maintained their life sentences. The court also overturned the acquittals of the remaining seven defendants, who included Gujarat police officials and medical staff from a government hospital and were accused of destroying and tampering with evidence. Later, on April 23, 2019, the Gujarat government was ordered by the Supreme Court to provide Bilkis Yakoob Rasool Bano a 50 lakh rupee settlement, a government job, and accommodation in a neighbourhood of her choice. In the Bilkis Bano gangrape, eleven men were sentenced to life in prison were released on August 15, 2022, where she says, "Two days ago, the shock I felt 20 years ago came flooding back. Since then, I've still felt numb."