Bilkis Bano: Twenty years later the trauma of a rape victim continues

Eleven convicted rapists and murderers were set free in Gujarat a few hours after the prime minister called upon citizens to respect 'Naari Shakti'

Bilkis Bano (File image)
Bilkis Bano (File image)

Humra Quraishi

Eleven convicted rapists and murderers were set free in Gujarat; this carries an eerie warning of times to come…of the times ahead.

In fact, as the photographs of these rapist- murderers getting welcomed and garlanded by Hindutva men, are doing the rounds, one is reminded of the eight killers of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh, who were also welcomed and garlanded by BJP’s Jayant Sinha in the summer of 2018. He was then Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation and got away rather too effortlessly after giving those usual round of useless feeble explanations for garlanding and honouring convicted killers!

Times are getting traumatic by the day. Can one visualize the trauma of the rape victim Bilkis Bano? An ongoing trauma right from the time she was raped in Gujarat, twenty years back. She was then 21 years old and five months pregnant. To compound the tragedy, seven members of her family were murdered by the rioters!

Where are Right-Wing rulers of the day, who shriek during election rallies that they will do this and that for their ‘Muslim sisters’! Of course, their so called concern for the Muslim women always seemed fake and bogus. Hindutva characters who seem obsessed with grabbing votes from the minority community have done nothing at all to reach out to the Muslim survivors of the pogroms and riots.

In fact, the hapless Muslim women victims are too scared and petrified to even lodge complaints/ FIRs against the Hindutva culprits as they are worried about the severe aftermath; of the Right-Wing brigades taking revenge, making life hell for them!

I have been hearing this dark reality from the Muslim women victims of the various communal carnages and onslaughts. In 2006, during my visit to Ahmedabad, as I interacted with the Muslim families, it got more than apparent that the Muslim population of Gujarat was surviving amidst great fear. And there seemed no respite for times to come.

Many of the pogrom survivors were too terrified to return to their homes. Mothers spoke of their ‘lost’ children, not just in pogroms or encounters but in the aftermath. Muslim families put their children in far off hostels, or sent them to distant relatives, so that their children somehow survive. An auto-driver’s wife recounted that she decided to leave her young daughter in a hostel in New Delhi, so that the child could survive in a safer environment. Women spoke of the nothingness spread around them – they had lost just about everything!

A large number of Muslims families were forced to sell land at throw-away prices, threatened to move away from ancestral places to urban ghettos! Right-Wing forces were not just coming up with ‘Welcome to Hindu Rashtra’ slogans but were also pushing Muslims out from various spheres.

As an activist detailed, “today, in 2006, the situation is worse than 2002, with several Muslim boys even thinking of changing their names, from Abdul to Amar!...After all, Muslim youth get picked up by the police, illegally detained and severely tortured, before they are sent to judicial custody.” In fact, even children were not getting spared. News-reports of May 18, 2006 stated that in Vadodara bodies of two Muslim children were found in a particular VHP politician’s car! But along expected strain, no apparent follow up. Facts were buried somewhere along with the bodies of the two children!

Muslim women in Ahmedabad had told me that when the pogrom peaked, they’d tried calling the police but the response they got from the cops was “Go to Pakistan! Get lost to Pakistan!” They also narrated one incident after another, where Muslim families were finding it hard to get treatment at the government hospitals, or to get ration cards and loans. In fact, several Muslim women wanted to detail more but pursed their lips with just about murmurs along the strain – “our sons are booked under POTA, if we spoke out it could ‘worsen’ the case. A Muslim in Gujarat cannot speak out! Have to sit all too quiet!”

I'm reminded of what a well-known dancer- activist wrote in the backdrop of the then-Gujarat situation: “In Gujarat people are so terrified that they are silent. They are to be made voiceless. How does it matter how rich you are if you are voiceless!"

Whilst keying in, I’m also reminded of the killers of the Best Bakery of Gujarat, who were also set free! This, when human beings were burnt alive!

Bakery Barbarism, as it was called, was one of those gruesome incidents of the burning of live human beings at that small bakery tucked away in Gujarat, which for reasons best known to the proprietors was called ‘Best’. Then came the acquittal of those culprits who’d charred to death several human beings - a majority of them Muslim…Though I’m not from Gujarat but the incident and the verdict had left yet another blow. Why were hapless humans roasted alive in that Best bakery?

To this day there’s been no closure to the maddening communal killings and rapes and anarchy! How can there be, if survivors and victims sit marginalised and bruised and in fear and at the mercy of those who are manning the very system? When fear surmounts every breath!

Rape victim Bilkis Bano has got to get justice. For herself and for all those victims targeted on a daily basis.

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