EDITORIAL | Bilkis Bano: never forget

If Qutubuddin Ansari’s terrified and supplicating visage was the face of the 2002 Gujarat riots, the story of Bilkis Bano symbolised its horror and brutality. One was a visual which did not need words, the other was a narrative that words could not describe. Both pose questions that should still trouble the nation’s conscience. Justice is difficult, different from case to case, and cannot often be measured by punishment of the guilty or compensation for the victim. Ansari is happy that he was spared the sword, but thinks it is an unjust world. Bilkis Bano’s entire family was eliminated and her three-year-old daughter’s head was smashed against a rock in front of her eyes. She was pregnant but was gang-raped and left for dead. After years of struggle and legal fight, her attackers were convicted, and now the Supreme Court has awarded her Rs 50 lakh as compensation, to be paid by the Gujarat government, which has also been ordered to provide her a job and a house. 

The Supreme Court has provided legal and statutory justice in many cases relating to the Gujarat riots by ordering fresh investigations and trial and shifting cases out of the state. But justice has eluded the victims and their kin in many cases and has been denied in many others. Some cases are yet to be decided. Bilkis, an illiterate woman, had to fight all the way from the police station through the lower courts to the Supreme Court for closure, and to claim what is due to her from society and the State. The state establishment was indifferent and even hostile to her, and was on the side of the attackers. The state government offered her a compensation of Rs 5 lakh, which she rightly rejected. The Supreme Court’s order is a reminder to all governments of their obligation to compensate victims of social and political crimes, especially when they have failed to prevent them. 

The Bilkis story has many levels: the individual courage and persistence of a woman, the callousness and indifference of the State and the judicial assertion of the victim’s rights in the end. Beyond them, it also speaks of unspeakable cruelties and atrocities that human beings, driven by hate, are capable of inflicting on fellow beings. Bilkis has decided to set up a fund in the name of her daughter to support other victims like her. Money is not justice, and courts deliver it only in terms of the law. She, and others like her, will get full justice only when there are no more riots and killings and when the State does not support killers and rapists. 

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