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The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt
February 26, 2004
Bilkis Yakoob Rasool alias Bilkis Banu, a resident of Randhikpur in the tribal-dominated Dahod district of Gujarat, recently gave birth to a girl. She was five months pregnant in March 2002 when she was raped during the post-Godhra riots. Her relatives, who were killed by the mob, were buried by the local police in a jungle near the site where she was repeatedly raped.
After the Supreme Court intervened in the case following Bilkis' appeal to the court against the Gujarat government closing the matter on a technicality, her case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI has also begun a scientific examination of the skeletons recovered from a rivulet near Ahmedabad. A bone-marrow test is likely to be conducted by the Central Forensic Science Lab.
What follows is an exclusive account of her story, narrated six months after the rape to Sheela Bhatt. The first of a series of reports to mark the second anniversary of the Godhra incident and its aftermath:
When Godhra happened my husband Yakub was unemployed. But we lived in a well-kept home and I was happily married. We had a baby named Saleha. She was three years old. I was five months pregnant.
On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati Express was burnt in the morning. The next morning, the sarpanch of our village took out a rally. It turned violent and people started burning the homes of Muslims in the village. At that point in time we thought of fleeing the village, but our village leaders assured us that nothing would happen, no one would touch us.
But then mobs began pelting stones at our homes. We ran for cover. I didn't even wear my chappals. All the Muslims of the village took shelter in the home of former sarpanch Karja kaka [uncle]. We wanted police security, but it was refused. More than 500 Muslim children, women and men were gathered there. We felt unsafe. We wanted to run away but all roads were blocked. At the main exit points they had kept live electric wires.
On the 28th midnight they started burning homes systematically. 'We will kill you, chop you off,' they were shouting. The men rushed to the police station with the names of 573 people. We needed protection. But the police refused. Many Muslims then fled to the jungles and hid there for days.
On the 28th, for the whole day between 11 am and 8 pm, without food or water, we kept hiding at various places in our own village. But hiding was not possible owing to the charged atmosphere. Wherever we were hiding the host would receive a call that 'you have kept Muslims in your house. You better drive them out, otherwise we will attack your home.' We don't know who called Karja kaka and threatened him. But he got frightened and asked us to vacate his home.
Our houses and tempos were burnt. When we asked the police for protection they too advised us to run away from the village. So we left the village and late at night reached former Congress MLA Bijalbhai Damor's home in nearby Chundadi village. He was not at home. His son gave us water and some snacks. But he too asked us to leave after a while. We went to Kuagher village, but here too the Muslims had fled. We stayed overnight in a mosque.
On the 28th, we walked so much that my cousin Shamim who was with us got intense labour pains. She was nine months pregnant. It was a very difficult time. She gave birth to a child in the mosque itself. It was a normal delivery.
Kuagher village also had a communal clash. We went to Kudra village with the help of tribals. We were around 500 Muslims in the beginning, but later just 17 family members were left. Shamim, who had just delivered a baby, was unable to walk. So all of us stayed back at Kudra and most of our men left the place. My mother, my two sisters, my maternal uncle, my two brothers, my father's sister, her husband and her three sisters were among the 17 persons who stayed back. Some tribals helped us. We hid there for two days. They took pity on Shamim, so along with her all of us were given refuge. They fed us and gave us clothes.
To hide our identity we wore tribal clothes. We had to leave their home because many inquiries were made if they had kept any Muslims. We left Kudra at 4 am in disguise.
All those days all of us were crying constantly. Fear had captured our hearts and minds. We could not think of much else. The only issue before us was how to save our lives.
Out of the 17, four were men, eight were women, and the rest were children. After two days the tribals escorted us to Chaparwad village. From here we thought of meeting Manabhai, an old acquaintance. He lives in Panivela. While going there we rested for a few minutes at a tribal hamlet. The place was between two hillocks and a narrow road passed by it.
When we were passing by that road a man came and hit one of my uncles. He fell down and regained consciousness only an hour later. Soon more people came along. All of them were from Randhikpur, my own village. People from Chaparwad gave them our whereabouts.
'Mussalmans are here, kill them, kill them,' they were shouting.
They were able to collect more people from Panivela and Chaparwad. We were too tired and helpless. We didn't have the strength to fight back. Since we were running for cover, we never thought of picking up even a stick. We started running in all directions, but we could not escape. We were 17 and they were more than 25. They had come in a Tata Sumo.
They started molesting the girls and tore off their clothes. Our naked girls were raped in front of the crowd. They killed Shamim's baby who was two days old. They killed my maternal uncle and my father's sister and her husband too. After raping the women they killed all of them.
They killed my baby too. They threw her in the air and she hit a rock. After raping me, one of the men kept a foot on my neck and hit me. They hit me with sticks and stones, then picked me up and threw me into the bushes. I was unconscious. They thought I was dead. But after a few hours I recovered my senses.
Those men were using such foul language, I can't repeat it ever. They were saying, 'Since you have killed our people (in Godhra) we will kill you too. We will not leave any Muslims alive."
In front of me they killed my mother, sister and 12 other relatives. The way we kill animals, they slaughtered us. On the 28th morning my husband and other family members had gone to a village meeting held at the home of a BJP worker. There they had pleaded for protection. All those who raped me and my sisters and murdered them were present there.
Out of 17 only three of us survived -- two small children and me. I have no idea how they managed to survive. There were no Hindu women in the crowd. All of them were young or middle-aged men. While raping and killing us, they were shouting the choicest sexual abuses. When they were raping me I could not even tell them that I was five months pregnant because all the time their feet were on my mouth and neck.
Hindus of all castes were involved. My fellow villagers were part of the crowd that killed my relatives. How can I not identify them? They were all my gaonwale [fellow villagers].
After two hours when I opened my eyes I saw that my world had been destroyed. I could not even stand on my feet. But I was scared that people may see me and come back. A night and a day passed on top of the hillock. I was very hungry and thirsty. I could not bear it anymore. I thought I may die of thirst. So I started to come down from the hillock.
I saw a hand-pump belonging to some tribals. Those tribals also wanted to beat me up because I am a Muslim. I lied to them and told them in their language that I was one of them. They gave me water and clothes. I slept a little. By that time a police van had started combing the area. They had heard about the killings of families from Randhikpur.
They asked me to rest on the back seat of their vehicle. They told me I was very lucky to have survived. I didn't tell them my tale then. They took me to Limkheda. There they gave me food and heard my complaint. I told them everything that I have told you. But they changed my version. They scared me. They said if you make an allegation about rape, you will have to be taken to hospital for a medical checkup. How can you in such a weak state of health go to hospital? They also frightened me by saying that I could be killed. I was too tired to fight with the police. So I dropped the idea and requested them to take me to Godhra camp. I wanted to meet my relatives.
My mother, two brothers, two sisters and my three-year-old daughter all got killed. But I can identify all the culprits. I have known the men who raped me for many years. We sold them milk. They were our customers. If they had any shame, they would not have done this to me.
Five days after the rape and after taking a bath three times I finally went for a medical checkup. I have the medical certificate that proves rape. I am an uneducated woman. I belong to the Ghanchi community and follow the Tableeghi Jamaat where girls are not sent to school. My father has become deranged after this incident.
But I will not leave the fight halfway. How can I forgive them?
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Illustration: Uttam Ghosh