Debating India

GUJARAT

A glimpse of justice

Friday 12 March 2004, by BUNSHA*Dionne

A CBI investigation into the complaint of a gang-rape victim exposes the complicity of the Gujarat police in covering up cases relating to the communal carnage of 2002.

For almost two years, Bilkis Yakub Rasool has been in hiding. She survived one of the most brutal mass rapes and killing during the 2002 communal carnage. Fourteen of her family members were murdered, including four children. Twenty-year-old Bilkis named 12 accused. But the police did not arrest them. Instead, they closed her case as `true but undetected’. The police said that there was not enough evidence. The accused remained scot-free, while Bilkis was a prisoner in her own home.

Determined to see the killers behind bars, Bilkis appealed to the Supreme Court. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) supported her petition. The Supreme Court ordered the CBI to take over the case. It was the first and only post-Godhra communal violence case that was handed over to the CBI. Investigations started on January 5, 2004. Since then, the Gujarat police’s well-buried secrets have come tumbling out. Recent CBI investigations have found that the police deliberately destroyed evidence.

Bilkis’ village, Randhikpur in Dahod district, was attacked on March 1. Her family fled from village to village in search of protection. En route, her sister Shamima delivered a baby girl. Bilkis was also five months pregnant at that time. But they could not halt in any place for long. After almost three days of trekking through deserted, rocky terrain near Chapparwad village, they heard the roar of two jeeps behind them. It was not the police. It was Randhikpur’s leaders on the prowl. They poured out of the jeeps and gang-raped the eight women. Later they hacked and burnt 14. They did not even spare Bilkis’ two-year-old daughter. Bilkis lay unconscious after three men gang-raped her. She survived because they mistook her for dead.

That night she lay on the road, too injured to get up. When she gathered enough strength, she walked to Chapparwad. There an Adivasi woman took her home and gave her some clothes to cover herself. A police jeep took her to the Limkheda police station. There, they took down her statement. She was still in shock. Bilkis says she named the accused but the police refused to report the names threatening her that her life would be in danger. Two days later, relief camp organisers took Bilkis back to the police station to make sure that her statement was properly recorded and that the accused were identified. Just because the police did not record the names of the witnesses in the first statement, they said that her testimonies were "contradictory". They labelled her "mentally unstable" and closed the case.

Ever since, Bilkis has been fighting to get the accused punished. The police said that there was insufficient evidence against the accused. Bilkis had named the murderers. But they did not accept her testimony. Bilkis saw village leaders rape her sisters, mother, cousins and aunts. They grabbed her two-year-old daughter from her and beheaded her. She knew who did it. And she repeatedly asked the police to arrest them. But they ignored the "mentally unstable" victim.

Recently, a CBI team led by Deputy Superintendent of Police K.N. Sinha returned to the scene of the crime. It uncovered 10 of the 14 `missing’ dead bodies. In a hurry to bury the evidence, the police had brought two doctors to conduct a farcical post-mortem at the site itself.

Normally, bodies are sent to the hospital for post-mortem. Panch witnesses told the CBI that the police had asked them to bury the bodies and add 60 kg of salt so that the bodies would disintegrate quickly. By law, the police are supposed to hand over the bodies to the families of the dead. Instead, they chose to destroy the evidence.

Although Bilkis named the accused, they did not conduct an identification parade. They did not arrest any of those accused. The police did not collect any evidence like hair, blood or nail samples for forensic examination. When Bilkis reached the police station, they did not do medical tests to establish rape. They did not get her clothes tested for blood or semen stains. The CBI has arrested a head constable of the Randhikpur outpost, Narpat Singh Patel, for suppressing evidence. When the inquest report and the post-mortem were conducted, senior officers like Circle Inspector R.M. Bhabhor, Deputy Superintendent of Police R.M. Bhagora and Sub-Inspector I.S. Sayyed were also present. The CBI is interrogating them for their role in the cover-up.

The CBI arrested all 12 accused whom Bilkis named. Among them were local BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader Sailesh Bhatt (who allegedly killed Bilkis’ daughter) and Ramesh Chandana, former aide of Jaswant Bhabhor, a Minister in Narendra Modi’s previous government. Naresh Modia, Govind Nai and Yashwant Nai, who allegedly raped Bilkis, were also arrested. Leaders in Randhikpur have captured land belonging to Muslims and banned them from entering the village. These refugees now live in Devgad Baria.

For Bilkis, who has been fighting the Gujarat administration single-handedly until now, the Supreme Court and the CBI have come in like knights in shining armour. Finally, someone is listening to her story. In the last two months, the CBI has done more than what the Gujarat police did in almost two years.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 05, February 28 - March 12, 2004.

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