The ignominy that attaches itself to a horror story does not lessen with time. It will long remain a blot on the system of the Indian mechanism for administering “justice” ~ even the apex court doubts if money can ever prove adequate compensation to a victim of a violent crime ~ that it took 17 painful years for Bilkis Bano, whose story shocked the world after the carnage in Gujarat in 2002, to receive a sum of Rs 50-lakh, a house, and a job that the Supreme Court ordered as relief for her on Tuesday. That too only after an exhaustive legal battle waged in one court after another. Their Lordships CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna were clearly irked when counsel for the Gujarat government attempted to question their ten-fold enhancement of the compensation amount, and cautioned that it was fortunate that they were not commenting on the role of the state government.
Clearly the attitude that caused the pogrom after the Godhra train-burning is still a dark, living, reality in a state that prides itself as the land of the Mahatma. The court was taking no chances and fixed a time-frame for its orders to be implemented ~ hopefully that situation will be closely monitored so that the agony is not further prolonged. For the court said, “it is very apparent that what should not have happened has happened, and the State has to give compensation.” However the court wondered if money assuaged the trauma to which Bilkis had been subjected and expressed a regretful inability to do much more.
While their Lordships cautioned against living in the past, it is also vital not to forget how a pregnant Bilkis was gang-raped, saw a daughter’s head being smashed, several members of her family, slaughtered and she was left for dead and only some tribal folk provided her succour. The trouble did not end there: the police were indifferent, she had to request the trial be shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra, and then work her way up to the Supreme Court.
A sympathetic counsel and a couple of NGOs were the only back-up she received. As her counsel said at a recent hearing, “She has been stripped of every vestige of dignity, has no means to support herself, leads a nomadic life…” After being informed of the apex court verdict, Bilkis said, “I still have nightmares. For years I have lived in constant fear, of people around me, of the male gaze, of even the slightest movement… I am thankful to the Supreme Court and the law for giving me justice, but nothing can ever remove the scars…” That lament would be echoed by all victims of state-backed hooliganism. Some folk in the Capital still recoil at the memories of November 1984. For the kingpins of the Delhi and Gujarat killings continue to wield clout.