The Bombay High Court on May 4 upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of 12 people in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang-rape case. 7 other persons – 5 policemen and 2 doctors – were also convicted by the court for not performing their duties and tampering with evidence.
Bilkis Bano and her family were attacked by a mob at Randhikpur village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, at the height of the state organized communal violence campaign in Gujarat. 14 members of her family, including her two-year-old daughter, were killed. Bilkis, just 19 years old and five months pregnant at the time, was gang-raped but survived.
She tried to register a case with the police but was turned away and threatened with dire consequences. Continuing to face threats to her family, she then approached the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered a CBI probe and the transfer of the case to Maharashtra in 2004.
The court verdict in the case of Bilkis Bano comes after a long legal battle of 15 years in which, as the Bombay High Court noted, Bilkis was the only witness, and the prosecution’s entire case stood on her testimony. The court found her testimony “completely trustworthy”, while it concluded that the investigation carried out by the Gujarat police was “flawed” and “dishonest”.
Bilkis said in the statement: “For officers of the state, whose sworn duty it is to protect citizens and enable justice, this should be their great moral shame to bear forever.”
The court verdict in the Bilkis Bano case is a damning indictment of the Indian state. It is a damning indictment of the governments at the centre and in Gujarat at that time. It is an indictment of the entire state apparatus, the police, courts and bureaucracy.
As numerous investigations by various organisations and activists have brought out, through irrefutable facts, the communal violence and genocide in Gujarat in February-March 2002 was completely state organized.
The preparations for it had begun at least two months earlier, with the identification of Muslim houses and properties using voter lists, gathering of petrol and weapons. As was evident from eyewitness accounts and investigations, the burning of a train carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya on February 2002 in Godhra, was used as the pretext by the government headed by Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling establishment to give a call for unleashing large scale communal violence and massacre of the Muslim community in Ahmedabad and other places all over the state of Gujarat. Armed mobs were organized to go around looting and burning Muslim houses and properties, murdering Muslim men and boys, raping and torturing women of the community. Within a few days, thousands were slaughtered, lakhs of people were turned to refugees and tens of thousands of children condemned to become orphans.
Senior-most police officials and bureaucrats were reportedly under verbal instructions to allow the murderous mobs to continue their criminal activity and not protect the victims.
State organized communal violence and genocide, targeted against a specific community, with the full assistance and complicity of the state apparatus, the police and bureaucracy, have been carried out, following an almost identical pattern, again and again, before as well as after 2002, in different parts of the country, e.g. in Delhi and other places in 1984, in Mumbai, Surat and other places following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and in recent times as in Muzzafarnagar in 2013. This has happened, regardless of which party, Congress or BJP or any other, has been in power at the centre or in the particular state in which the genocide has been organized. Numerous commissions of enquiry set up by the state have brought out these facts and many human rights organisations and activists have been valiantly fighting for justice for the victims for years on end. But the guilty, those who organized and masterminded the crimes, those in positions of power and authority, charged with the responsibility of protecting the citizens, have never been punished in a single case.
There is a concerted attempt by certain sections of the media to portray the Supreme Court verdict in the Bilkis Bano case as a ‘victory for justice’. However, the conviction of a handful of individual culprits and police officers, after 15 long years of suffering and struggle, is hardly the justice that the thousands of victims of state organized communal genocide have been seeking! The entire state machinery which actively participated in the massacre, including those in command positions in the bureaucracy and police, the criminal political parties at the centre and in the state that organized the genocide, have all been let off once again!
The repeated occurrence of state sponsored communal violence and lack of punishment of the guilty is a matter of grave concern. Life experience has repeatedly shown that merely changing the ruling party through the existing electoral process has not helped to end the problem of state organized communal genocide. There is urgent need for all those who stand opposed to state organized communal violence, to discuss and debate and take forward the struggle for the thorough-going transformations required in order that sovereignty may really belong to the people, that people may be empowered to prevent communal violence and massacre and punish the guilty.