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This is what justice feels like, I can breathe again: Bilkis Bano on Supreme Court verdict

 


The Supreme Court of India on Monday quashed the Gujarat government's decision to grant remission to 11 men convicted of raping Bilkis Bano and murdering seven members of her family during the 2002 riots in the state. Quashing the Gujarat government's decision, the Supreme Court said the state government's order was "stereotyped" and passed without application of mind. 

In a statement issued through her lawyer Shobha Gupta, Bilkis Bano thanked the top court for the verdict and said "today is truly the New Year for me". 

"I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and a half. I have hugged my children. It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again," Bilkis Bano said.

"This is what justice feels like. I thank the honourable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children and women everywhere this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all," she noted.

The Supreme Court also accused the Gujarat government of abusing its power and ordered that the 11 men be sent back to jail within two weeks.

In the statement, Bano also said that journeys like that of hers can never be made alone.

"I have had my husband and my children by my side. I have had my friends who have given me so much love at a time of such hate, and held my hand at each difficult turn. I have had an extraordinary lawyer, Advocate Shobha Gupta, who has walked with me unwaveringly for over 20 long years, and who never allowed me to lose hope in the idea of justice," she said.

She said that "a year and a half ago, on August 15, 2022, when those who had destroyed my family and terrorised my very existence, were given an early release, I simply collapsed".

Bano said she felt she had exhausted her “reservoir of courage" until a "million solidarities" came her way.

"Thousands of ordinary people and women of India came forward. They stood with me, spoke for me, and filed PIL petitions in the Supreme Court. 6,000 people from all over, and 8,500 people from Mumbai wrote appeals, 10,000 people wrote an Open Letter, as did 40,000 people from 29 districts of Karnataka," she said.

"To each of these people, my gratitude for your precious solidarity and strength. You gave me the will to struggle, to rescue the idea of justice not just for me, but for every woman in India. I thank you," Bano said.

She said even as she absorbed the full meaning of this verdict "for my own life, and for my children's lives, the 'dua' that emerges from my heart today is simple, the rule of law, above all else and equality before law, for all".

Excoriating the Gujarat government, the apex court said it "usurped" the power of the Maharashtra government to grant remission to the convicts.

It held as nullity the May 13, 2022 judgement of another bench of the apex court, which had directed the Gujarat government to consider the remission applications of the 11 convicts in the case, saying it was obtained by "playing fraud on court".

"This is a classic case where the order of this court dated May 13, 2022, has been used for violating the rule of law while passing orders of remission in favour of respondent nos 3 to 13 (convicts) in the absence of any jurisdiction by the State of Gujarat. Therefore, without going into the manner in which the power of remission has been exercised, we strike down the orders of remission on the ground of usurpation of powers by the State of Gujarat not vested in it. The orders of remission are hence quashed," a bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said.

It asked whether "heinous crimes against women permit remission" irrespective of the faith she may follow or the creed she may belong to.

Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was raped while fleeing the horror of the communal riots that broke out after the Godhra train burning incident in February 2002. Her three-year-old daughter was among the seven family members killed.

*With agency inputs

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