The road to justice for Bilkis Bano was an arduous and painful one. And her struggle in her own words was “about the shameful failure of the state in protecting its people”.
The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday, 23rd April delivered a judgement vindicating her 17-year long struggle. The Gujarat government was directed by the apex court to provide Bilkis Bano with a compensation of 50 Lakhs within two weeks, accommodation in the place of her choice and a government job.
A day after the verdict, on Wednesday (24th April) in a press conference in New Delhi, she said, “The honourable Supreme Court has let me know it stands with me. It understood my pain, my suffering and my struggle to regain the constitutional rights that were lost in the violence of 2002. No citizen should have to suffer at the hands of the state, whose duty it is to protect us.”
Hindustan Times reported that her advocate Shobha Gupta said that the compensation amount directed to her is probably one of the largest to be granted to a victim of sexual assault and rape in the country.
Bano’s response to the compensation, however, is that her “dreams are endless.” She wants to educate her children with the money and give them a stable life. “My daughter will study and be a lawyer,” said an emotional Bano, who hopes and prays that her now 16-year-old daughter, Hazra will someday represent the aggrieved and fight for them at the Apex court.
Bilkis was five months pregnant with Hazra when her family was brutally slaughtered in the 2002 Gujarat Riots. She was gang-raped by 11 men and 14 of her family members were slain before her helpless sight on that rueful day. The dead included her 3-year-old daughter Saleha, whose head was smashed on a rock.
“My daughter Saleha’s body was lost in the tide of hatred that swept over Gujarat in 2002. There is no grave for Saleha that I could visit and weep upon. But her spirit has been with me. I know she is up there, somewhere, and through helping others, she will live on in the lives of other children,”
She also added that with the compensation directed to her by the Supreme court, she wants to help other women survivors and aid their children’s education. The fund, she says will be opened in the memory of her first born daughter Saleha and her first husband who were victims of the vicious hate crime in 2002.
In memory of her painful past, she said, “I pray today that the spirit of the victims like her, the courage of survivors, the struggles of ordinary citizens, and the democratic institutions of India will come together again and again to end the hate and fear that is gripping our country.”
Bano on her return to Gujarat casted her vote for the first time in 17 long years at a voting booth in Devgadh Baria, a town in Gujarat’s Dahod district on 23rd April.
“I was unable to cast my vote for 17 years because we were always on the run. Today I have cast my vote, and my vote is for the unity of the country… I have faith in the democratic system of my country – in the electoral process.”
For Bilkis, this verdict not just vindicates her 17-year-long struggle but also reinstates her faith in the Judicial mechanism of our country, “I always had faith, even though it was a long fight, in the justice system and the constitution,”
She also said, “Communal violence has given way to public brutalities of another kind. Muslims are feeling insecure,” The judgement she believes is a way of telling Muslims that they too are equal citizens of India.