Bilkis Bano was five-months pregnant in March 2002 when a mob attacked her near the Randhikpur village in Ahmedabad, smashed the head of her three-year-old daughter in front of her eyes, murdered 14 members of her family — including women and children — and gang-raped her, during one of the worst communal riots in India's history. For 15 years she has fought against police complicity, threats of violence, and political intimidation. She has moved home as many as 25 times to keep her family safe.
But on Monday, Bano said she has finally got justice and was "happy with the court's verdict."
"The horrors I suffered deserve the maximum punishment, but at the same time I do not want any one else to die in my name," Bano said. She was 19 years old when she was gang raped.
"My faith in the Constitution and in the idea of justice has been upheld, and for that I am truly grateful to the honourable judges," she said.
The verdict in her case was being compared by the media to the one in the Delhi bus gangrape and murder — in which the Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty for all four convicts. But Bano made it clear that she did not want to compare the two cases. She said she would not seek the death sentence for those who gang-raped her and killed her daughter.
"The horrors I suffered deserve the maximum punishment, but at the same time I do not want any one else to die in my name."
"I want justice, not revenge," she said at a press conference also attended by her husband Yakoob Rasool and her lawyer Vijay Hiremath. The Bombay High Court had upheld the conviction and life imprisonment of 11 people in gang rape case while setting aside the acquittal of seven persons including policemen and doctors. The court also dismissed an appeal filed by CBI seeking death penalty for three of the convicts.
For 15 years she has struggled to get justice, and now Bano said she just wanted to move on. Rights activist Kavita Srivastava, who was present at the press conference accused the Gujarat government and then home minister Amit Shah of "facilitating parole for many of the convicts".
"We led a life of vagabonds all these years. We shifted at least 20-25 houses out of fear," she said.
According to Reuters, about 2,500 people, most of them Muslims, were hacked, beaten or burned to death in Gujarat in riots following the death of 59 Hindu activists, returning from a religious ceremony in Ayodhya at the Babri Masjid site, in a fire inside the Sabarmati Express train near Godhra railway station in Gujarat on 27 February 2002.
In 2004 the Supreme Court moved the trial out of Gujarat, that had a right wing BJP government, to Maharashtra, to ensure fair trial. Out of the 4,252 riot-related cases registered, Gujarat police dropped more than 2,000 for lack of evidence.