Sunday, January 27, 2008

Importance of being Bilkis

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, January 27, 2007

The Other Half

Kalpana Sharma

It is one of those horror stories from the Gujarat
carnage of 2002 that few can forget. A young Muslim
woman, six months pregnant, runs for her life from
her village when rampaging mobs attack it on
February 28. She has with her a three-year-old
daughter, her mother and other relatives. They move
out of their village under cover of darkness and
hide in a field hoping to escape. Instead, the next
morning they are confronted with a mob of 20 to 30
men carrying swords and sickles who assault and gang
rape the four women, including Bilkis and her
mother, kill many of the others, and kill her
three-year-old daughter by “smashing”
her on the ground. Of the 17 who left the village,
only three survived, the bodies of eight were found
and six are still missing.

The horror does not end there. Bilkis pretends she
is dead and waits till the mob leaves. Then with the
help of a home guard, and with her six-year-old
nephew and a three-year-old boy who have survived,
she trudges to a police station to register a
complaint. On the way she borrows some clothes from
an Adivasi woman to cover herself.

At the police station she receives little sympathy.
Instead the policeman on duty pretends to listen to
what she is saying but writes something completely
different in the First Information Report on which
he gets the illiterate Bilkis’ thumb

Two days later, local photographers find eight
bodies of the massacred family. This forces the
police to act and post-mortems are conducted. Again,
instead of recording the truth, they conduct what
has now been termed a “shoddy”
post-mortem and bury the bodies. Some years later,
when the bodies are exhumed as part of a fresh
investigation, none of them have skulls. It appears
that they were decapitated after the post-mortem to
prevent identification. In addition, salt was
sprinkled on the bodies so that they would

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