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'Gujarat govt must give Bilkis Bano security'

January 09, 2024 13:41 IST
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'I learnt today that Bilkis Bano had to change her house after these people were released as some of them lived in her vicinity.'
'This was an injustice to her, she had to do this under duress.'

IMAGE: Bilkis Bano at a press conference.

Professor Roop Rekha Verma, the former vice chancellor of Lucknow University, is 84, but hasn't given up fighting. Known for her lifelong involvement in the cause of communal harmony and women's rights through her NGO Saajhi Duniya, the professor continues to raise her voice even on the streets, against the polarisation that marks her state.

"I feel angry and depressed, though both emotions don't normally go together. My blood boils, but I feel so powerless," the professor, one of the petitioners against the remission of sentence of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano rape case, tells Jyoti Punwani.


Congratulations on the judgment.

Thank you. I'm very happy. These days are so bad that getting a judgment that's according to the law becomes something to be happy about.

After a very long time, we've got a clear cut judgment. It does some plain talking without giving any concessions.

I had no idea about the other judge, but I expected this from Justice (B V) Nagarathna. However, you never know. These days the pressures are so bad; one can understand if someone succumbs. One has to at least care for one's life.

Why did you file this petition? Do you know Bilkis Bano?

I've never met Bilkis Bano. But I've been keenly reading about the Gujarat violence right since it took place in 2002.

The cases that went to trial, the reprieve given to culprits, Maya Kodnani being acquitted, the long years of injustice after injustice and the shameless defence of culprits...

When this remission came to light, several people independently were shocked. The shock deepened when we came to know that these men had never been in jail continuously; they'd been getting parole liberally.

We exchanged our thoughts and felt, why not go to court. Of course, even at that time, we were disillusioned by the courts, but still we thought, why not try.

I know Subhashini Ali and then some people contacted Revati Laul, such a bold woman, whom I didn't know before this. The three of us finally became joint petitioners.

Then we came to know that Mahua Moitra had also gone to court, and just today I discovered there was one more petitioner: Meeran Borwankar, former police officer. It's a pity social media had not mentioned her name earlier.

IMAGE: Lawyer Vrinda Grover speaks to the media after the Supreme Court cancelled the early release of 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano's gang-rape case and killing her family members during the Gujarat riots in 2002, in New Delhi, January 8, 2023. Photograph: Ishant/ANI Photo

Who was your lawyer?

The first appearance I think was by Kapil Sibal. Then Vrinda Grover, Indira Jaising all argued.

But I think the court basically looked at Bilkis Bano's petition and the arguments made by her lawyer Shubha Gupta, who must be given credit for having fought for her for so long. It takes a lot of courage.

This judgment strikes down a decision taken at the very top.

Yes, that came out in the beginning of the case. There was such a hue and cry by activists, but the Centre kept quiet. It was only after Justice K M Joseph (then on the Bench) and Justice Nagarathna asked for the file, that this came out.

The Centre kept delaying things until it reached a point that Justice Joseph had to say that they are waiting for his retirement. That was a shameful blot on our judicial system that a Supreme Court judge had to say in open court.

IMAGE: Professor Roop Rekha Verma

Given the status of people involved in this decision that has been struck down so forcefully, don't you feel scared about the repercussions?

In the present atmosphere, any sensible person would expect some sort of calamity. But what can one do?

Do you regret having gone to court?

No, absolutely not.

But I do feel depressed at the situation around. The way voices are being suppressed and criminals being shielded... every third or fourth rapist seems to be linked to the ruling party these days, like the BHU (rape) accused.

I feel angry and depressed, though both emotions don't normally go together. My blood boils, but I feel so powerless. One's personality is being eroded and changed because of these feelings. Not just me, but many people who have always resisted injustice are experiencing this. Nobody wants to put oneself in danger.

What makes it worse is that today, people don't feel inspired to go to court.

When I think of the confidence with which we opposed every unjust act of every government! I used to lead dharnas on the streets. But today's situation is strange; there is nothing we can rely upon.

I would like to make one demand. I learnt today that Bilkis Bano had to change her house after these people were released as some of them lived in her vicinity. This was an injustice to her, she had to do this under duress. It is the prime duty of the Gujarat government to give her security and the confidence to return to her home.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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