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'We have rights no State can violate': Bilkis Bano

Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped during the 2002 riots in the state, addresses a press conference, in New Delhi, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Gujarat government to give Rs 50 lakh compensation, a job and accommodation to Bano. (PTI Photo)

Her 17-year long quest for justice earned her a compensation of Rs 50 lakh through a recent order of the Supreme Court.  Bilkis Bano, a victim of the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots, now wants to put aside a part of the money to help other victims of communal riots like her.

She has decided to create a fund in the name of her three-and-a-half-year- old daughter Saleha, who was allegedly smashed to death by the rioters before they gang-raped Bano. She was three-months pregnant at the time of the incident.

“No citizen should have to suffer at the hands of the State whose duty is to protect us. My daughter Saleha's body was lost in the tide of hatred that swept over Gujarat in 2002. There is no grave for Saleha that I could visit and weep upon,” she said at a press conference on Wednesday, announcing her decision to create a fund in the name of her daughter to support other victims of communal riots in their fight for justice and to educate their children.

Recounting the horror of “those hate-filled days and night” of 2012 Gujarat riots, Bano said while the rioters killed a total of 14 members of her family, including her baby daughter, she ran from pillar to post later seeking help but the State did not provide her “any support.”

“It has been a journey of a million steps, first seeking criminal conviction of those who destroyed my life, my child, my entire family,” she added.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakh as compensation, provide a government job and accommodation to Bano alias Bilkis Yaqoob Rasool.

Expressing her gratitude to the apex court, Bano said the “exemplary” direction to the Gujarat government in her case has reaffirmed her faith in judiciary and will give hope to other victims of rape and communal violence.

Daughter to study law

“Today the State has been convicted in a court of morals and constitutional principles. The Supreme Court’s order is not about money. It is about the signal it has sent to the State and to each citizen of this country. We have rights that no state can be allowed to violate," she added.

When asked about her future plans, Bano said she wants to live a new life with her husband and daughter, who was in her womb at the time of her gang-rape by the rioters.

“She is now 16 and wants to become a lawyer so that she can help victims like me. I will spend some of the money (compensation awarded by the apex court) in helping her achieve her target,” Bano added.

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