Undo this harm, give me back my right to live: Bilkis Bano after release of rape convicts

Two days after all the 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the Bilkis Bano gang-rape and murder of seven members of her family walked out of Godhra sub-jail after the state government allowed their release under its remission policy, Bano on Wednesday issued a statement saying the latest development has shaken her faith in justice.

“Two days ago, on August 15, 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 3-year-old daughter, had walked free,” Bilkis Bano said in the statement.

“The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts,” she added.

Bano urged the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace”.

“I was bereft of words. I am still numb. Today, I can say only this – 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,” she added.

“No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision. 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,” said Bano, who was five months pregnant at that time when she was gangraped and seven members of her family were killed by the Hindutva mob.

After spending over 15 years in jail, 11 convicts serving life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case from the 2002 Gujarat pogrom walked out of jail on Monday as the Gujarat government has allowed their release under its remission policy.

Bilkis Bano, pregnant at that time, was trying to flee her town along with 17 other members of the family when Hindu men she knew gang-raped her. Her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by Hindu militants on 03 March 2002, in Limkheda of Dahod district.

The BJP-led Gujarat government accepted the recommendation of a committee that was formed a few months back that took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case.

The convicts were awarded life imprisonment by a special CBI court in Mumbai in January 2008 on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family during the anti-Muslim genocide. In May 2017, the conviction was upheld by the Bombay High Court.

Earlier, the Supreme Court directed authorities to decide following a convict’s petition seeking premature release under the remission policy. The committee was headed by the Godhra district Collector since the convicts were serving their sentences in the Godhra sub-jail.

The 11 convicts are Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhyesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana.

In the 2008 verdict, the CBI court held that Jaswant Nai, Govind Nai and Naresh Kumar Mordhiya raped Bilkis while Shailesh Bhatt killed Saleha by “smashing” her on the ground. The other accused were convicted of rape and murder, as being part of “an unlawful assembly”.

Bilkis had identified all the accused during the trial — she told the court that most of them were known to her and had purchased milk from her family.