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Who is Bilkis Bano?
Bilkis Bano, a 21-year-old pregnant woman, experienced a gang rape incident during the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat, India. Her little daughter, who was three years old, was one of the seven family members who lost their lives during the riots. The case garnered widespread national attention and came to define communal violence and injustice in India.
Early Life of Bilkis Bano
Bilkis Bano was born in 1981 in the village of Radhikpur, located in the Dahod district of Gujarat. Throughout her early life, she resided in Gujarat alongside her family. Bano’s father was Abdul Ghachi, while her mother’s identity remains undisclosed. At the age of 19, she entered got married with Yakub Rasool, who worked as a laborer. They built a home in Randhikpur, a tiny town located in the state of Gujarat. Bilkis was a domestic caretaker and had three female child. Her oldest daughter, Saleha, died during the Gujarat riots in 2002. In remembrance of her first daughter, she chose to name her youngest daughter Saleha.
Background of the Deadly Incident
On 27 February 2002, Sabarmati Express was traveling from Ayodhya to Godhara, mainly occupied by Hindu passengers. According to reports, a group of Muslims stopped the train. A violent mob assaulted the passengers and set fire to the train, resulting in the tragic death of over 59 Hindu pilgrims. The act incited intense anger among the Hindu population in Gujarat, thereby initiating the Gujarat riots. On the following day, Hindu mobs initiated attacks on Muslims in other locations across Gujarat. The family of Bilkis Bano, a resident of Godhara, was targeted by Hindu mobs during the attacks on Muslims.
The Deadly Incident
On March 3, 2002, Bilkis Bano and her family were escaping the communal violence that occurred following the Godhra train-burning event. A group of approximately 35-40 individuals launched an attack on them near Randhikpur village. Bilkis suffered a gang rape while she was five months pregnant, and the mob murdered seven of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter. She became unconscious, and the mob mistakenly believed she had died. Following a period of nearly three hours, she regained consciousness and discovered herself without clothing. Subsequently, she proceeded to a local police station to lodge a formal complaint.
Bilkis Bano lodged a formal complaint against the person who committed the crime, resulting in the registration of a case under Section 376 (rape) and other relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The trial commenced in 2003, and in 2008, the trial court found 11 individuals, including police officers and doctors, guilty of the horrible acts of gang rape and murder against her family members. The court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment against them. Nevertheless, in 2017, the Bombay High Court confirmed the guilty verdict but cleared five out of the 11 accused of the allegation of murder. The court also overturned the life imprisonment of the remaining six defendants and found them guilty of lesser offenses. In addition, the court found five police officers and two doctors guilty of manipulating evidence and protecting the defendants. The court sentenced them to three years of prison.
The story of Bilkis Bano came to represent an instance of communal violence and injustice in India. She requested for substantial compensation while refusing to accept the Gujarat government’s proposal. In 2019, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Gujarat government to provide Bilkis with a compensation of Rs 50 lakh. Nevertheless, Bilkis declined to accept the settlement. She assumed the role of an activist and advocated for the victims affected by communal violence. She led the rallies against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) enacted by the central government. She was included in Time Magazine’s roster of the 100 Most Influential People in 2020.