Corpses haunt the cops

Bilkis was gang raped and left for dead. The police buried the evidence and shut the case. But the bodies of the 14 others who died in the attack were exhumed, exposing the police complicity in covering up the crime.

DIONNE BUNSHA

Who says dead men tell no tales? Corpses hidden by the Gujarat police are coming back to haunt them.

For almost two years, Bilkis has been in hiding. She survived one of the most brutal mass rapes and killing during the 2002 communal carnage. Fourteen of her family were murdered, including four children. Twenty-year-old Bilkis named 12 accused. But the police didn’t arrest them. Instead, they closed her case as ‘true but undetected’. The police said there wasn’t 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 supported her petition. The SC ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (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 5th January 2004. Since then, the Gujarat police’s well-buried secrets have come tumbling out. Recent CBI investigations have found that police deliberately destroyed evidence. The CBI has dug up a case that the police tried its best to bury. And the skeletons are speaking.

Bilkis’ village, Randhikpur in Dahod district, was attacked on 1st March. 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 the time. But they could not halt in any place for too long. They were back on the run. After almost three days of trekking through deserted, rocky terrain near Chapparwad village, they heard the roar of two jeeps behind them. It wasn’t the police. It was Randhikpur’s leaders on the prowl. They poured out of the jeeps, gang raped the eight women. And hacked and burnt 14. They didn’t 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 lady 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 that her life would be in danger. Two days later, relief camp organisers took Bilkis back to the police to make sure that her statement was properly recorded and the accused identified. Just because the police did not record the names of the witnesses in the first statement, they said her testimonies were “contradictory”. They labeled 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 repeatedly asked the police to arrest them. But they ignored the “unstable” victim.

Recently, the CBI took 13 of Bilkis’ relatives to a Mumbai court to testify before a magistrate. Until now, these witnesses have been too terrified to speak. They were brought to Mumbai because they were scared to testify before a court in Ahmedabad. Their statements will add more weight to Bilkis’ testimony. (Indian Express, 21 February 2004)

The CBI team, led by deputy superintendent of police K.N. Sinha, returned to the scene of the crime. They 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 a post-mortem. Panch witnesses told the CBI that the police had asked them to bury the bodies and add 60kg 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 didn’t conduct an identification parade. They didn’t arrest any of those accused. The police didn’t 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 head constable of the Randhikpur outpost, Narpat Singh Patel, for suppressing evidence. When the inquest report and post-mortem were conducted, senior officers like the circle inspector R.M. Bhabhor, deputy police superintendent R.M. Bhagora and police 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 who Bilkis named. Among them were local BJP leader Sailesh Bhatt (who allegedly killed Bilkis’ daughter) and Ramesh Chandana, former PA of Jaswant Bhabor, a minister in Modi’s previous government. Naresh Modia, Govind Nai and Yashwant Nai, who allegedly raped Bilkis, were also nabbed. 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 SC and the CBI have entered like knights in shining armor. Finally, someone listening is to her story. In the last two months, the CBI has done more than the Gujarat police did in almost two years. By digging up the dead, the CBI has exposed the Gujarat police’s complicity. The conspiracy to bury the truth and deny her justice is finally coming to light. Her dear departed are speaking.

Frontline, February 28 – March 12, 2004 Also available here


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