I am deeply honored and truly humbled to be with Bilkis Bano at this press conference today in Delhi to speak on the most recent Bombay High Court judgement on her case. Bilkis is a shining beacon and inspiration in our country. And yet instead of being given the equivalent of a Param vir Chakra she has not even been given any security or protection by any government.
At the age of 19 she witnessed her three year old daughter and 14 other members of her family be killed by a mob given carte blanche by the Gujarat BJP government to kill Muslims in February 2002. She was gangraped and left to die. The very next day she had the courage to go to a police station and file an FIR - but the police dismissed her case and threatened her with dire consequences if she went forward. But she did.
She fought for 15 long years along with her husband Yaqub during which she had to move house 24 times as the perpetrators (arrested earlier by a sessions court) were released on parole multiple times. She was harassed constantly during this time for fighting for justice and given no support by either the Gujarat or Central Government.
I salute her long and heroic struggle which is unfortunately not over yet. I salute the unknown activists who have stayed in the background like Madhavi Kuckreja (someone who has inspired me from the time we worked together in the 1984 relief camps), Farah Naqvi, Gagan Sethi, Malini Ghose, Dipta Bhog and others for standing by her in her long fight for justice. It is they, it is Bilkis, it is Yaqub who are the light and hope of the future of this country.
The judgment is being hailed as historic as it is the first time that state officials - such as the police and doctors - have been indicted in India for the cover up of a crime. However, while this is indeed an absolutely terrific accomplishment on the part of the activists and Bilkis - it is the very least we can expect in a supposedly modern democracy and polity. The cover up was not just denial of FIR but the beheading of the corpses and burial in mass graves to prevent future identification. For this heinous crime these officials have been given the extremely light sentence of 3 years and a paltry fine which the court has directed to be paid to Bilkis as compensation. She has not received any direct compensation to date.
In another part of the judgment the Court has said that the men acted "in the spur of the moment" and therefore dismissed the charge of conspiracy.
Let us make no mistake.
Gujarat 2002 was not a riot. It was not a hate crime by individual Hindus "boiling with revenge" for Godhra (also cited). What happened to Bilkis and her family was not a spontaneous act. It was part of a pogrom carried out by the Gujarat government then led by Chief Minister Narender Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Mr Modi has since then been given a clean chit for direct complicity. Just as Rajiv Gandhi and Narsimha Rao were let off for the 1984 genocide. If Mr Modi was so innocent of what was happening under his nose for many days in his own state - then why didn't he swiftly act to deliver justice to Bilkis and other Gujarat victims? Why didn't he even once approach her with an apology for the supposed failure of his state machinery that supposedly could not control mobs?
Why did it take 15 years to just get this much - a 3 year sentence for the perpetrators of the cover up? And why have only the foot soldiers - these 7 cops and doctors been indicted? The masterminds of the cover up went all the way to the top. Just as the masterminds of the genocide were from the highest echelons of government.
Sadly it is not just one Bilkis Bano facing this struggle for justice today but countless others from Delhi 1984 to Srinagar, Assam, Nellie, Bhiwandi, Moradabad......
These so called communal riots will never end till all Indians understand their true nature and see past the specific political party and understand that the real guilty party is the Indian State and it's entire machinery. And do a chakka jaam in the country till they are all brought to justice no matter if they are the Prime Minster. Such heinous crimes as what happened to Bilkis cannot be tolerated or acceptable.
We Indians are taught to believe that the duty of the State – rajdharma – is to ensure security and prosperity to all – without any discrimination.
The Indian State has failed consistently in this test.
Instead of ensuring the security of life and livelihood, it has unleashed state terrorism on people time and again.
I stand with Bilkis in her struggle for justice and for an India in which no religious minority is targeted in any way. An India in which the state exists not to make profits for itself but to provide sukh and raksha for all its citizens.