Hyderabad: IAS officer and Telangana chief minister’s secretary Smita Sabharwal on Thursday said that India cannot call itself a free nation after snuffing out Bilkis Bano’s right to breathe free.
Sabharwal’s reaction comes in response to the release of 11 people convicted for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of other Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots. A panel set up by the Gujarat government approved their application for remission of the sentence.
“As a woman and a civil servant, I sit in disbelief, on reading the news on the #BilkisBanoCase. #JusticeForBilkisBano,” Sabharwal posted on Twitter. She also attached a statement released on behalf of Bilkis Bano, in which the victim appeals to the Gujarat government to undo the harm and ensure that her family is kept safe.
Earlier, state IT minister KT Rama Rao (KTR) also requested PM Modi to take action and cancel the Gujarat government’s remission order of the 11 convicts.
Taking to Twitter, KTR wrote, “Dear PM @narendramodi Ji, If you had really meant what you spoke about Respecting women, urge you to intervene & rescind the Gujarat Govt remission order releasing 11 Rapists. Sir, it is nauseating to put it mildly & against MHA order. Need you to show sagacity to the Nation.”
Who is Bilkis Bano?
Twenty years ago, on February 28, 2002, Sabarmati Express carrying karsevaks was set on fire in Godhra station. What followed the attack on the train were riots that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims, mostly Muslim families.
Bilkis Bano, who was a little less than 21 years of age and five months pregnant at that time, tried to flee the state with her family, including her three-year-old daughter – Sahela.
March 3, 2002, the family reached Pannivel village and took refuge in a field. However, they were soon cornered by 20-30 Hindu men, armed with sticks, sickles, and swords.
As they shouted, ‘Aa rahya Musalmano, emane maaro, kaato,’ (these are the Muslims, kill them, cut them’) Bilkis recognized many faces.
What followed was a blood bath and a cry for mercy as one by one Bilkis’s family members were killed. Four women including Bilkis and her mother were brutally gang raped and assaulted. One of the accused – Shailesh Bhatt – snatched Bilkis’s daughter from her arms and smashed the toddler’s head onto the ground, killing her instantly.
Fifteen of her family members were killed that day. Her cousin who had given birth to a baby girl the previous day was brutally ripped off, raped, and killed along with her infant. Bilkis was left naked, bleeding, and unconscious. Since Bilkis was the lone survivor and eyewitness of the murders, she went through the ordeal of identifying the bodies, including her toddler. She also underwent a medical examination four days after her rape.
After fighting the case for six long years, on January 18, 2008, the special court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment (one had died) and arrested a policeman for three years for trying to destroy evidence.