The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bilkis breaks through fear veil
Rape victim finds hope in case transfer

Ahmedabad, Aug. 8: Bilkis Yakub Rasool today did a Zahira Sheikh.

While the key witness in the Best Bakery case had surfaced in Mumbai to cry foul, Bilkis came out of hiding in Gujarat to narrate her ordeal since she was gangraped and 14 relatives were massacred in the post-Godhra riots.

Two years ago, she had lost hope “when my neighbours turned their backs on me and the state refused to recognise me as an equal citizen”, she said, appearing before the media for the first time.

After the Supreme Court shifted “my case outside Gujarat”, her faith in the judicial system has been restored. Now “I hope to get justice in Maharashtra court”, she said, promising to speak fearlessly about the wrongs done to her and name the perpetrators.

Like the Best Bakery case, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of Bilkis’ case on the grounds that she cannot get a free and fair trial in Gujarat.

“Today, along with a sense of hope, I am also filled with sadness because I know how sexual violence was systematically used against so many women of my community… I am not the only one,” she said.

“There are many women there whose names and faces I do not know but whose pain I can feel,” Bilkis added, hoping “justice for me will pave the way for justice for others”.

Bilkis had named her attackers in Limkheda police station on March 4, 2002, a day after the atrocity in Dahod district. But the names were excluded from the FIR. “As I am illiterate, I did not know that they had not written the names of the accused,” she said.

Her statement was recorded again two days later in a relief camp. After a year, police closed the case, citing “inconsistencies’’ in her statements. No evidence was found against “the respectable members of the society” Bilkis had named, the police said.

Bilkis, the sole survivor of the massacre, approached the National Human Rights Commission. The matter reached the apex court, which asked the CBI to take up the case.

The CBI investigation, which has led to the arrest of 20 people, including six policemen, has made her believe she will get justice that was denied to her in Gujarat, Bilkis said.

Farha Naqvi, a Delhi-based activist, said: “The case stands on solid ground as the CBI has evidence that will ensure speedy trial and conviction.”

But it is not clear who would bear the expenses for transporting the witnesses to Mumbai when trial begins. Naqvi indicated they might have to approach the court to give direction as to who should bear the expenses.

But unlike the Best Bakery case, there was no confusion over the public prosecutor. The CBI appointed R.K. Shah on the apex court’s direction.

Bilkis said she sought transfer of her case as she was threatened and felt unsafe in Gujarat. Naqvi pointed out that she has had to change her house as many as 20 times in the last two years.

Asked how she would live in Gujarat where she does not feel safe, Bilkis said she would once her tormentors are punished.

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