Sexual assault on women happens at regular and frequent interval in India. Two cases have caught national attention. Gang rape of Bilkis Bano, the rape and murder of Nirbhaya.
Bilkis Bano was raped during 2002 Gujarat riot. Bilkis Bano was five month pregnant. She was gang raped. Fifteen members of her family were killed, including her daughter and her mother. Bilkis had fought against all odds to obtain justice. Her case was not registered by police. She was threatened not to pursue her case. Finally, fifteen years after her ordeal had began, Bilkis Bano got justice in 2017. Eleven accused were given life sentence. Did Bilkis get justice? Should her tormentors not get death penalty? Bilkis Bano has shown enormous dignity and poise. Despite upheaval in her life, Bilkis does not want revenge. She does not want her tormentors to get death penalty. Bilkis Banu wants to raise her child, so that her child does not have to face what she did. What is her source of strength? So powerful, so quiet yet so dignified!
Ten years later, Nirbhaya was assaulted, raped, disembowelled and thrown on the street of Delhi on a chilly December evening in 2012. Her tormentors, tried to kill her by running a bus over her body. She was saved when her friend removed her injured body from being crushed to death. Nevertheless, Nirbhaya died a few days later. Despite a fast track court, it took five years for legal system to run through its course. Finally, in 2017 highest court of India upheld death penalty for four accused. One accused had committed suicide and another being a juvenile at the time of crime was sent to a reformation centre. Hopefully, bereaved family will see some sense of closure of their agony.
Comparisons are being drawn between punishment meted out to accused in Nirbhaya and Bilkis Bano cases. Issue being if both cases are similar in terms of brutality and gruesome nature, why Nirbhaya killers got death and Bilkis assaulted life. Why collective conscience of nation was stirred at Nirbhaya and not with Bilkis? Was it because Bilkis was a Muslim? Was it because Bilks came from a different socio economic strata?
There is no easy answer. It can be argued Nirbhaya case stirred public imagination. May because it happened in Delhi. May be any girl can face a similar situation. Nirbhaya was out to have some fun. That is to enjoy a movie with a friend. She returned dead. Another girl was assaulted equally brutally in Kerala. Jisha rape and murder, did stir people, but magnitude was not comparable to that seen with Nirbhaya case. Nirbhaya did not come from an upper middle class family. What moved people was her family’s determination to educate a girl child. Her parents sold their land to educate their daughter. Girl was assaulted and killed at a time when there was no social upheaval. She was out for fun. She returned dead. Given the sheer unpredictability and sheer brutality of the act, death was given to accused. Bilkis Bano rape case was no less traumatic. It happeneNd in the backdrop of Godhra train burning. It was a time when society was in turmoil. May be that is why her tormentors got life.
Verdicts were pronounced by courts in Delhi and Mumbai by two different judges. In their rabid antipathy to government, many activists are attributing motive behind Bilkis Bano verdict. Activists who are vehemently opposed to death penalty of rapists, are questioning why accused in Bilkis Bano case were not given death sentence? One must remember that every court case is fought by different lawyers, with different style of argument, based on different sets of evidence and heard by different judges. Should an ulterior motive necessarily be imputed?