According to the only eyewitness in the Bilkis Bano case, the individuals convicted for the gruesome crime must be hanged or jailed for the rest of their lives; only then would justice be served.
The eyewitness was just seven years old when a mob attacked his cousin Bilkis Bano and others in Limkheda taluka of Gujarat’s Dahod district and killed 14 of them during riots that erupted in 2002 after the Godhra train burning incident.
He is now 28 years old and lives in Ahmedabad with his family.
“I had endured the trauma of watching my loved ones being killed in front of my eyes. I still wake up in the night and scream as those moments haunt me even after all these years,” he said.
The Supreme Court, on 8 January 2023, quashed the decision of the Gujarat government, taken in August 2022, to prematurely release 11 convicts facing life term for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of 14 persons.
The eyewitness said, “I felt very hurt when they were set free. I am somewhat relieved now because they will be sent behind bars once again. My mother and my elder sister were among the 14 who were killed that day in front of my eyes.”
He asserted, “All the convicts must be either hanged or they must be kept behind bars for the remainder of their lives. Only then justice will be served. These men must never be set free again.”
Riots broke out in different parts of Gujarat after the Godhra train burning incident on 27 February 2002.
A group of 17 persons – mostly women and children – to save themselves, left Randhikpur village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district and headed towards Devgadh Baria town via a forest, said a social activist who gave shelter to that boy.
The activist, seeking anonymity, said, “Bilkis Bano along with this boy (eyewitness) and his mother and elder sister were also in that group, which was attacked by a mob on 3 March. Of those 17, the mob killed 14, including an infant, and then gang-raped Bilkis. They also tried to kill Bilkis and this boy but they survived. A 4-year-old boy also survived the attack after the mob left thinking everyone was dead,”
The boy — after spending some time in a relief camp in Godhra after the incident — was shifted to a residential school in Kutch, said the activist who became his guardian and took care of his upbringing.
The activist said, “Since he was the only eyewitness, he testified before a special CBI court in 2005 in Mumbai. His testimony proved crucial because it matched the sequence of events narrated by complainant Bilkis Bano. He also identified four of the 11 accused during the hearing.”