Ahmedabad: Bilkis Bano, a survivor of the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, on Wednesday said the premature release of all the 11 convicts serving a life sentence in a case related to her and seven family members, has shaken faith in justice and left her numb.
On August 15, all the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 case of Bilkis Bano's gang rape and murder of her seven family members during the riots walked out of the Godhra sub-jail after the BJP government in Gujarat allowed their release under its remission policy.
Criticizing the move, she said nobody enquired about her safety and well-being before taking "such a big and unjust decision," and appealed to the Gujarat government to "undo this harm" and give back her right to "live without fear and in peace."
"Two days ago, on August 15, 2022, the trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again when I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and my life, and took from me my three-year-old daughter, had walked free," Bilkis Bano said in a statement released by her lawyer Sobha on her behalf.
She said the government's decision has left her numb. "I was bereft of words. I am still numb," said the survivor of the gang rape and murder of her family members in one of the worst riots triggered by the Godhra train burning incident. She said all she can say today is "how can justice for any woman end like this?"
"I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice," Bilkis Bano said.
"My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts," she said. The survivor asked the state government to ensure her safety and that of her family members post the release of the convicts.
"I appeal to the Gujarat Government, please undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe," she added.
The Gujarat government had released all the 11 convicts after the Supreme Court directed it to consider their plea for relief under the 1992 remission policy. A special CBI court in Mumbai had on January 21, 2008, sentenced to life imprisonment all the 11 accused in the case for murder and gang rape. Their conviction was later upheld by Bombay High Court.
These convicts served more than 15 years in prison, after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release. The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence as per its 1992 policy on the basis of the date of his conviction.
Thereafter, the government formed a committee and issued an order allowing premature release of all the convicts from jail.
On March 3, 2002, Bilkis Bano's family was attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. Bilkis Bano, who was five months pregnant at the time, was gang raped and seven members of her family were killed by rioters.