The unfathomable agony of being Bilkis Bano

Bilkis Bano and her family have been living in fear for 20 years even as her tormentors have been released early under the remission policy of Gujarat government. Irony has died a thousand deaths

The unfathomable agony of being Bilkis Bano

Humra Quraishi

As details are emerging about the fear gripping Bilkis Bano's entire family after the release of her rapists, a strange irony hits: This hapless rape victim and her husband, children and relatives have been living in fear and moving from one place to another for the last twenty years, whereas the convicted rapists and murderers are getting garlanded by Hindutva outfits as though they have indulged in some heroic deed!

Aren't rape and murder heinous crimes? The fact is, Bilkis Bano has been terrorised by her tormentors. She was gang raped, her three-year-old daughter was killed by the rioters, seven of her relatives were also killed. To top it all, she and her family have been living in fear all these years.

In fact, her tormentors ought to be booked under any of the terror acts, because she has been terrorised all through, all these twenty years.

We must hang our heads in shame, for here is this woman who has suffered all these years and even now she and her family are getting hounded. If the political bigwigs of the country are being provided with security, why shouldn't this hapless citizen, Bilkis Bano and the surviving members of her family?

A connected reality

Isn’t it time to document details of hundreds of women and their families who have been targeted and assaulted in Gujarat? Even today, the very word ‘Gujarat’ drags along images and details of the affected, either during the 2002 pogrom or even years after.

For the survivors of the riots, the trauma is still going on. Many have been living in isolation, cut off and bruised to the extent that they have lost all hope. Their lives have been completely destroyed and their emotions trampled upon.

In fact, whilst keying in, I’m reminded of Ishrat Jahan, the 19-year-old college student who was killed in an 'encounter', in 2004, on a road between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat, allegedly by the officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch led by D.G. Vanzara.

Some years back, I had got in touch with Ishrat’s younger sister Musarrat Jahan and her mother Shamima, for a feature I was doing for Women’s Feature Service. Their voice carried strains of intense pain. It was more than apparent that this family had not recovered from the tragedy.

And when I’d asked Musarrat whether there’d been any change in the realities they live with, she told me, “Ever since Ishrat’s killing, we have kept to ourselves and seldom move out. To this day we are wary of stepping out. Difficult for us to survive. I gave up studies… Forget about books and studies, even running the kitchen gets very difficult. Ishrat was the sole earning member of the family. After the death of our father in 2002 because of a brain tumour, the responsibility of the family fell on the eldest of the seven siblings, Ishrat. She took up part-time jobs so that we could survive. After her death, the situation has only been worsening for us. We have been suffering on all possible fronts; emotionally, socially, financially…can’t tell you our pain. We just keep to ourselves. We are fearful and somehow surviving.”

For many, the very word ‘Gujarat’ drags along faces of all those sitting marginalised and bruised and at the mercy of the political rulers. To this day dark images stand out. There’s been no closure. There can’t be, with the tormentors, and culprits roaming about freely.

Many have given up all hope. Several want to fight for justice. I recall the words of Zakia Jafri, “I’m going to carry on this fight for justice, not just for myself but for all those killed in Gujarat... My husband, Ahsan Jafri, fought valiantly till he was killed by the Hindutva rioters. But till the end he did not give up. Like Hazrat Imam Hussain and his companions were martyred during the battle of Karbala, hundreds of innocent children and women and men were killed in that Gujarat pogrom.”

The impact of the Gujarat riots has been intense on our minds. Bureaucrat-poet J P Das wrote a poem in 2002 titled After Gujarat:

After Gujarat

will there be poetry?

Could poets write

after Alexandria was razed?

After Auschwitz

Hiroshima and Vietnam

after the Emergency

after Babri Masjid

9/11 and Iraq?...

Poetry cannot be banished

It returns at will

to Plato's Republic

to Stalin's Siberia

to Pokhran and Kalahandi

following in the footprints

of violence

as it chronicles

the descent of man

As with history, to poetry

there is no end …

Poetry will be written

despite fatwas and bans

Poetry will defy the Gulag

it will ignore the censor's blue pencil

and the fundamentalist 's frown

poetry will be written

even as books

are being burnt …

After Gujarat

poetry will be written

About Gujarat itself

beginning with

the shame of Ayodhya

and following the bloody trail

to Godhra, to Gujarat

and on to Mumbai…When Babri rises

poetry will affirm

that temples are made

not with blood-scribed bricks

or stones carved in hate

that they, like poetry

are founded on

imagination and faith

in the hearts of men.

(Views are personal)

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