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Rights

Today, I Can Breathe Again, Says Bilkis Bano After Landmark Supreme Court Judgement

In a letter issued through her lawyer, Bano thanked the Supreme Court, her family, friends and lawyer as well as the thousands of people who extended their solidarity to her.

New Delhi: Bilkis Bano smiled for the first time in a year and a half today, she said in a letter thanking the Supreme Court for its judgement undoing the remission given to those who raped her and murdered her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Today is truly the New Year for me. I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and half. I have hugged my children,” Bano said in a letter issued through her lawyer Shobha Gupta.

A two-judge division bench of the apex court said on Monday (January 8) that the Gujarat government did not have the power to grant premature release to the 11 convicts who gang-raped a pregnant Bano and her family members, and also murdered 14 of her relatives.

The convicts had been sentenced to life in prison.

“It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again. This is what justice feels like,” Bano’s letter continued to say.

“I thank the honourable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children and women everywhere, this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all.”

She thanked her husband for children for staying by her side and her friends for “[holding] her hand at each difficult turn”.

Bano also thanked her lawyer, Gupta, saying she “never allowed me to lose faith in the idea of justice”.

“A year and half ago, on August 15, 2022, when those who had destroyed my family and terrorised my very existence, were given an early release, I simply collapsed,” she said.

“I felt I had exhausted my reservoir of courage. Until a million solidarities came my way.”

Thousands of ordinary people moved the Supreme Court, wrote appeals and open letters in solidarity with her, Bano said, saying they had given every woman in India the will to “rescue the idea of justice”.

Gujarat’s government said the decision to remit the convicts’ sentence was arrived at by a panel it had set up, comprising officials and ‘social workers’, all of whom were either members of the ruling BJP or were connected with it.

On Monday, the division bench comprising Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said the Gujarat government “acted in complicity with the convicts” and noted that if the convicts can “circumvent the consequences of their conviction, peace and tranquillity in the society will be reduced to a chimaera.”

Bano said the apex court’s decision affirmed her belief in the rule of law.

“Even as I absorb the full meaning of this verdict for my own life, and for my children’s lives, the dua that emerges from my heart today is simple – the rule of law, above all else and equality before law, for all,” she said.

Her full statement, which was also issued in Gujarat and Hindi, is reproduced below in English.

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Bilkis Yakub Rasool’s Statement

January 8, 2024

As the Supreme Court bench of Justice B.V. Nagarathna and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan quashed the remission granted to the 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano and murdering 14 members of her family in 2002

Today is truly the New Year for me. I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and half. I have hugged my children. It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again. This is what justice feels like. I thank the honourable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children and women everywhere, this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all.

I have said before, and I say again today, journeys like mine can never be made alone. I have had my husband and my children by my side. I have had my friends who have given me so much love at a time of such hate, and held my hand at each difficult turn. I have had an extraordinary lawyer, Advocate Shobha Gupta, who has walked with me unwaveringly for over 20 long years, and who never allowed me to lose hope in the idea of justice.

A year and half ago, on August 15, 2022, when those who had destroyed my family and terrorised my very existence, were given an early release, I simply collapsed. I felt I had exhausted my reservoir of courage. Until a million solidarities came my way. Thousands of ordinary people and women of India came forward. They stood with me, spoke for me, and filed PIL petitions in the Supreme Court. 6000 people from all over, and 8500 people from Mumbai wrote appeals; 10,000 people wrote an Open Letter, as did 40,000 people from 29 districts of Karnataka. To each of these people, my gratitude for your precious solidarity and strength. You gave me the will to struggle, to rescue the idea of justice not just for me, but for every woman in India. I thank you.

Even as I absorb the full meaning of this verdict for my own life, and for my children’s lives, the dua that emerges from my heart today is simple – the rule of law, above all else and equality before law, for all.

Bilkis Bano, Jan 8, 2024

(Issued through Adv. Shobha Gupta)