Can money really heal every wound? If so, awarding Rs. 50 lakh as compensation to Gujarat riot victim Bilkis Bano, along with being offered a government job and a house, might seem all right. But if one considers the pain and struggle Bilkis underwent since the fateful March 3, 2002, the judgement has failed to provide true justice—the perpetrators of the heinous crime are yet to be punished.
During the trial, and after Bilkis had narrated her ordeal in detail, she gave vivid descriptions of what happened during the riots; how she was threatened to withdraw her complaints; about the persons who put pressure on her; why she had to change her residence again and again; every evidence is available in black and white, that too in first person’s account. After going through the story of Bilkis, every right thinking person will be unanimous that not only justice was delayed, it was denied too.
Bilkis was not only gang-raped but also saw 14 of her family members being brutally killed by a mob who happened to be Hindutva supporters. The so-called saviours of Hindutva were cruel enough that they didn’t even spare Bilkis’s three-year-old daughter. After the rampage, the scene of the crime was devastating that Bilkis could not find the remains of her daughter. The little girl simply got erased from this world. Will the huge compensation, touted as the biggest in India’s history, be able to reunite Bilkis with her daughter?
Delivering justice to Bilkis was not a tough job. It is not always possible to prevent a crime. But what prevented legal luminaries from providing justice to her? Who were those people who threatened Bilkis with dire consequences if she continued her legal battle? Is it difficult to punish these persons for blocking the path of justice? Were the authorities not aware about their names and designations? The authorities are well aware of all these facts. It clearly knows who did what during the Gujarat riots. Yet, they remain silent. Their silence makes us believe that it was not an incident fuelled by sudden anger. Rather, the Gujarat riot in 2002 was a well-planned pogrom. It is not hidden who benefited from the barbaric acts.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee described the Gujarat riots as a blot on the country’s secular credentials. The Bilkis case provided us an opportunity to at least repair some of the damage. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court missed the chance. Instead of announcing hefty compensations, it could have handed exemplary punishment to the persons involved in the crime, and likewise to those who obstructed justice to Bilkis.
That way in future no one dare commit such crimes. It was an opportunity to restore our faith in the Rule of Law too. It is often stated that everyone is equal before the law. But in this particular case, clearly the powerful ones did not receive even a scratch that could at least provide some solace to Bilkis and her family. So, while the high and mighty will continue with their agenda and playing with the social fabric of the nation, March 3 of 2002 will continue to haunt Bilkis. Surely, it stands as a testimony of our failed democracy where winning election matters, but denial of justice just fade like water bubbles.