Bilkis Bano’s house is situated in a small village square in Dahod district, Gujarat. At present, no one lives in the house that has been painted light green. The relatives of Bilkis Bano who was raped in the Gujarat riots of 2002 used to live in the house.
All the remaining members of the Muslim community in the village fled the place for the slums of Devgadh Baria, 40 km away after the 11 convicts in the case that had created ripples at the global level, were released by the Gujarat government. Bilkis, her husband and four children are living at an undisclosed location at present.
The Manorama team could trace the family kilometres away only after making much effort.
Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul speaks to Manorama:
What is the situation you and your family are facing at present?
We are terrified of everything and everyone. The situation is such that we cannot trust anyone. We shifted our residence many times from the time the incident took place till the accused were sentenced. But, still we face uncertainty in our life. We are suffering.
What was your life like after the accused were punished?
We thought that our lives would return to normal after the court’s verdict. We sent our children to school. I began going out for small jobs. In the meantime, in August last, the order to release the convicts was issued. Since then, the situation has taken a turnaround.
How did the news impact you?
The day was a terrifying one for us. The memories of the horror that took place two decades ago began to haunt us again. How could we sleep in peace? The persons who destroyed our lives are walking free right in front of us. We have been hiding in different places in fear of them. It has been nearly three months since our children went to school. It is about the same period since I went to work. We are living at the munificence of our relatives and friends.
Did the accused threaten you?
We have not been living in the village after the incident. Only our relatives are there. All the convicts are residents of the village. The BJP candidate is a relative of the convicts. We left the village after we came to know that the convicts had been set free.
What do you plan to do in the days to come?
We will challenge it in the Supreme Court for sure. Our future will be dedicated to the fight. We thought that everything had come to a closure after we fought a court battle for 18 years and the verdict was passed. When we have to still fight on against this injustice, how can our future be tranquil?
Is anyone helping you?
Every citizen of good will in this country is standing by us. Political leaders too have assured us of their support. But that is not sufficient. This is not about politics. Is this not our lives? This is not just the fight of a Muslim woman named Bilkis Bano. This is a fight for ensuring that every woman in India can live a life of dignity.
Do you have any worries about your continued life in Gujarat?
Criminals are released moments after the Prime Minister speaks from the Red Fort about women’s empowerment. So, what empowerment are they talking about? Was not the atrocity against Bilkis an act of injustice against a woman? Five of the convicts are members of the BJP. The State government sets them at liberty. They are described as cultured Brahmins. They are felicitated. How can we live in such a State?
The Bilkis Bano case
The Central Bureau of Investigation case is that Bilkis Bano and members of her family who were trying to flee during the 2002 Gujarat riots were attacked and raped and six of them were killed. The charge sheet says that the 6-year-old daughter of Bilkis Bano was killed by smashing her against the ground after holding her by the legs. Bilkis was pregnant at the time. It was the Supreme Court that criticised the inaction of the Gujarat police and ordered a CBI investigation into the case. Eleven of the accused were sentenced in the trial that was conducted in Maharashtra.
This year, a committee formed by the Gujarat government recommended release of the convicts. After the Supreme Court ruled that the Gujarat government is empowered to take decisions on the case whose verdict was passed in Maharashtra, the convicts, including the neighbours of Bilkis, were released on August 15 last.