I trusted highest courts, give back my right to live in peace: Bilkis Bano after Gujarat frees her tormentors

Two days after it allowed the release of the 11 lifers convicted of gang-raping her and killing her family members, a distraught Bilkis Bano has appealed to the Gujarat government to “undo the harm” and “give back my right to live without fear and in peace”.

A statement issued by her advocate Shobha Gupta late on Wednesday evening described the state of Bilkis’s mind. “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. I was bereft of words. I am still numb…” it read.

“Today, I can only say 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 slowly learning to live with my trauma. 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 the courts. 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.”

Bilkis, who lives in a relief colony in Dahod with her children and her husband, Yaqub Rasool, has been distressed since news of the government decision reached her on Monday. The family is worried about its safety. Speaking to The Indian Express, Rasool said, “We have not been able to think what to do next. We will do as the lawyer advises. But because this release of the convicts has left Bilkis devastated, we have meanwhile decided to keep her away from the public eye… It’s not worth reliving the trauma of the worst that has happened.”

A friend of the couple said the family had “left their home for a few days”. Bilkis, whose statement recollected that 14 members of her family were murdered on March 3, 2002, also has a brother. He lives in another city.

Rasool said they were unsure if there was a legal remedy available to challenge the government’s decision. “We wish to live in peace… It is possible only when there is a sense of justice. But we do not know how we can bring back justice to our lives and if it will be worth the fight all over again,” he said.

The state unit of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind also issued a statement condemning the release of the convicts from the Godhra sub-jail under the government’s remission policy. “The state government, in order to please a particular vote bank, has made a mockery of the justice system of the country and weakened the spirit of democracy by diluting the importance of women’s rights and safety… We condemn this decision to release the perpetrators of such a heinous crime and appeal to the state government that they should restore the faith in democracy and law and order,” read the statement.

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