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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 24 New Delhi June 1, 2019

Revisiting the Bilkis Bano Gang Rape Case

Saturday 1 June 2019, by Arup Kumar Sen

On the day Gujarat went to the Lok Sabha polls (April 23, 2019), the Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat Government to pay Rs 50 lakhs as compensation, provide a government job, and “accommodation in a place of her choice” to Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped during the 2002 communal carnage in the State. The three-judge Supreme Court Bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi, gave the verdict. Gogoi said: “In today’s world, money is the best healer. We do not know whether it can heal all, but what else can we do for her...” When the counsel for the state, Hemantika Wahi, tried to intervene, Gogoi reportedly told her: “Feel lucky that we are not observing anything against your government in the order.”

It should be mentioned in this connection that Bilkis, who has been living a nomadic life since 2002, had earlier refused the Gujarat Government’s offer of Rs 5 lakhs as compen-sation.

What happened to Bilkis Bano in 2002? To put it in the words of The Telegraph (April 24, 2019), Bilkis, then a 21-year-old, was five months pregnant when marauding mobs hacked to death seven of her family members and assaulted her at Randhikpur village near Dahod on March 3, 2002, in one of the worst communal riots in independent India. Bilkis, subjected to multiple gang-rapes, had been left for dead by the mob after she fell unconscious...

The brutality suffered by Bilkis Bano was noted by the CJI-led Supreme Court Bench. The Court said Ms Bano was a witness of the “devastation” of her family. It noted how her infant daughter was “smashed” against the wall in their house before her very own eyes. (See The Hindu, April 24, 2019)

The Bilkis Bano case has a long legal history. On January 21, 2008, a special court convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment 11 men accused in the case, while acquitting seven persons including the policemen and doctors. The Bombay High Court, on May 4, 2017, upheld the life sentence given by the trial court to 11 persons convicted in the case. In addition, the High Court set aside the acquittal of five policemen, including an IPS officer, and two doctors from a government hospital, as they were found guilty of dereliction of duty and tampering with evidence. (See The Wire, April 23, 2019)

In July 2017, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had dismissed the appeals of the two doctors and four policemen, including the IPS officer, R.S. Bhagora, challenging their conviction by the Bombay High Court. Reportedly, the CJI-led Bench of the Supreme Court recorded, on April 23, 2019, an undertaking by Gujarat’s Standing Counsel that the State Government had recommended that IPS officer Bhagora be demoted by two ranks for complicity in destruction of evidence to save some of the rapists. (See The Telegraph, April 24, 2019)

It is worth mentioning in this connection that Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister of India, was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, when Bilkis Bano witnessed “devastation” of her family and had to go through the trauma of gang rape during the Gujarat carnage in 2002. 

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