Saleha is only three years old. The attackers smashed her head into the ground – in front of Bilgis Bano’s horrified mother. A 21-year-old woman who was five months pregnant was raped by a male acquaintance. Thinking she was already dead, her torturers left her naked on the street. When she regained consciousness, she found fourteen members of her family brutally murdered. After fifteen years of fighting, its torturers were legally sentenced to life imprisonment. Recently – to the outrage of the country’s citizens and international public opinion – they were released.
Garlands appeared on the streets, sweets were made. And so, in the predominantly Hindu Indian village of Randikpur, one of the men who – in theory – should never have been freed was hailed. In 2008, he was sentenced to life in prison for participating in a 2002 nightmare in the Indian state of Gujarat. At that time Muslims living there were attacked. It was seen as retaliation for the death of 59 Indian pilgrims who died in a train fire a few days ago. Although the investigation did not confirm this, the tragedy was recognized by the public as a Muslim attack.
Bilgis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when the riots broke out. She and her family tried to escape the attacked city. However, on the way, a group of several dozen people stopped them. The attackers – as the woman told the New York Times – first killed her three-year-old daughter.
“They dragged her out of the truck and smashed her head on the ground,” the woman said. Later, she said, she was brutally gang-raped by a gang. Bano knew her torturers – many lived in the same town as her. During her dream, the attackers took turns killing her family members. Bano survived because her torturers thought she was already dead. They made her lie naked on the floor. Beside it were the bodies of his family members.
A fight for justice
Bilgis Bano – as he said – had to fight with the Indian justice system to demand that the killers be punished. In an interview to “The Hindu”, he said that the police deliberately obstructed the investigation and threatened him with something bad for publicizing the case. However, he did not resign – he applied to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and sent the case to the Supreme Court of India.
read more: Sexual violence in India. Report
A month later, all the torturers she pointed to were arrested. The trial, which began in 2004, resulted in the conviction of 13 of the 20 accused. Eleven men – who were found guilty of gang-raping and killing Bano’s loved ones – will never be freed again. The court found that the local police had actually obstructed the collection of evidence and sentenced one of the uniformed officers to three years in prison.
The penalties are valid in 2017. Bilgis Bano and his relatives believed that the dream of years ago was over forever. They were wrong.
Men of “good families”.
Earlier this year, one of the prisoners applied to the Supreme Court of India for early release. He pointed out that a law passed in 1992 gave judges the right to release prisoners who had been in prison for 14 years to life imprisonment. The Supreme Court decided that the application should be examined by the administrative authorities of the state of Gujarat, where the crime took place years ago.
So the local authorities appointed a commission, which concluded that the convicts could now be set free. On August 15, 11 prisoners were released from Godhra Jail. A video has been released online showing the convicts’ families outside the prison walls greeting them with sweets and touching their feet as a sign of respect.
The decision to release the convicts met with opposition from international opinion, but at the same time – with the understanding of politicians from the Indian People’s Party. Its politician CK Rowley was among the commission that acquitted 11 people. He pointed out, “I don’t know.” [skazańcy – red.] Whether or not they actually committed a crime. “In an interview with local journalists, he suggested that the punishment was carried out by “high-caste” Hindu believers, as New York Times journalists recalled:
– Their family functioning was very good; They are Brahmins. Like the Brahmins, their values were very good,” said Rawlji. When his words sparked a wave of anger in the community, he tried to back down from them. The politician argued that the “words were taken out of context” after learning that the comment was videotaped.
Peace was lost
In an interview with the BBC, Bilgis Bano made no secret of the fact that the decision to release the torturers left him “broken”.
When I heard that they were free, I felt a terrible, numb fear. “I believed in the justice system in this country,” he said.
She said she had to move and hide her identity several times over the years – until the men’s final judgment – for fear of retribution. In 2017, she believed her dream was over.
Her husband Yakub Rasool insisted that no one warned the family that the convicts might be released.
The people of India were not indifferent to the dream of the woman and her family: protests began in the streets, and the Supreme Court received applications indicating the need to analyze the decision of the local authorities on the early release of 11 prisoners.
India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will take up the case to consider whether to overturn the Gujarat government’s decision.
India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots, and his Indian nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party continues to rule the country.
Reuters, BBC, New York Times
Main photo source: PAP / EPA / Jagadish NV
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