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Bilkis Bano and Zakia Jafri exemplify the courage to fight for justice

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The 2002 genocide in Gujarat is one of the worst unforgettable moments in Indian history. From time to time wounds inflicted during this time reopen and bleed. It even changed the political scene of the country. Some cases of the Gujarat massacre got more attention, like the murder of Ehsan Jafri, the case of Zaheer Khan and the gang rape of Bilqis Bano and murder and rape of her relatives. The widow of Ehsan Jafri, Zakiya Jafri is even now being shunted from one court to another. But her courage is exemplary, her determination deserves a salute as she resolutely trudges along in search of justice after fifteen years.

Mumbai High Court upheld the decision of Special Court that gave life sentence to eleven accused in Gujarat’s Bilqis Bano’s case. Additionally, Mumbai High Court also held guilty five policemen and two doctors for tampering with and destroying evidence in Bilqis Bano’s case.

On February 27, 2002, Sabramati Express train that was travelling from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad was burned near Godhra in which 59 people died that included Kar Sevaks. Following the incident, the state was engulfed in communal riots in which more than 2000 people were killed, mostly Muslims. The carnage that the Godhra train burning caused is unimaginably brutal and inhuman.

Bilqis Bano case came to light during this time. Bilqis Bano, along with her three year old daughter and thirteen other members of her family were fleeing from her village when they were attacked by two truckloads of Hindu rioters. Bilqis was the sole survivor of the violence that was unleashed on them on the kachcha road from Kuvajal to Pannivel village. 19 year old and pregnant, Bilqis Bano, was raped one by one by the 20 to 30 attackers till she lost consciousness. Before her eyes she saw her 14 relatives raped and killed. Her three year old daughter was also snatched from her arms and killed.

All this happened in the biggest democracy of the world. Bilqis Bano’s world fell apart on March 3, 2002, while Gujarat was engulfed in the rage of rampaging Hindu rioters unleashing one of the worst massacre on Muslims in India.

But 19 year old Bilqis Bano did not break, instead she struggled on to seek justice. Even as she faced the unthinkable with exemplary courage, there were newer obstacles. The police refused to register her case, and then police and doctors tried to destroy the evidence of the heinous crimes. Even then Bilqis Bano struggled on determined with the help of the National Human Rights Commission. She was heard by the Supreme Court and it had her case removed from the Modi-ruled state as she and family were being threatened by the saffron extremists. Supreme Court had her case transferred from Gujarat to Maharshtra and had the previous investigations completely closed. The investigation was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which did a commendable job of upholding honesty and justice in the face of such biased and communal society and government. On January 18, 2008, eleven accused were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Special Court in Mumbai. One accused had already died.

But it took fifteen years to finally reach justice in this case. Even though the CBI had appealed for death penalty for the eleven accused, they were given life sentence.

Bilqis Bano is an example of all those who are going through the rigorous process of seeking justice in India. She is one of the many who have spent scores of years struggling with the complex nature of Indian judiciary. Cases like her cry out for a more fast track approach to justice, so that after the crimes committed against them, the seekers of justice do not have to go through another long and difficult journey to avail what is their basic right.

Translated from Roznama Khabrein

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