The Cynic

What happens if Gujarat govt doesn't pay Bilkis Bano Rs 50 lakh relief despite SC order

Bilkis Bano could be forced to take the route that Ishrat Jahan’s mother took.

 |  The Cynic  |  4-minute read |   03-10-2019
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On what ground does a democratically elected government, mandated to administer and serve in the name of the people, refuse to compensate a victim of mob violence even when the highest court of the land has found merit in it to do so?

The only possible reasoning could be that the said government does not consider the intended beneficiary to be a victim and so feels there is no need to compensate. Is that why for six months Gujarat refused to compensate a person recognised as a victim by court?

The case in point is that of Bilkis Bano and the Rs 50 lakh compensation that the Supreme Court had ordered the Gujarat government to pay.

bano-690_100219015907.jpgThe Supreme Court has directed the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 lakh compensation to Bilkis Bano within two weeks. (Source: Reuters)

The order had been passed in April 2019 in a case that was heard on and off, across various courts, for 17 odd years for a crime that had taken place on March 3, 2002, when Bilkis was 19 years old. When Bilkis, the mother of a 3-year-old girl, was pregnant with another child; when her daughter was snatched from her arms and pummelled to death — her little head smashed in; when Bilkis was raped 22 times, as noted by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, himself; when Bilkis had fainted during the assault.

In her statement in court, Bilkis had described what happened after she regained consciousness. “I found myself naked. I saw dead bodies of my family members lying around. I got frightened. I looked around for some cloth to cover myself. I found my petticoat and covered my body and proceeded to the interiors of the hills nearby,” she said.

For six months, the government of Gujarat did not comply with the Supreme Court’s directive on the compensation to Bilkis Bano. When she filed a contempt petition in court, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, representing the Gujarat government, said that the compensation had not been paid because the government of Gujarat wanted the order to be reviewed. The logic, provided by the Gujarat government through the solicitor general, was that paying the compensation might set a precedent.

This fear of precedent possibly stems from the fact that according to the Gujarat Victim Compensation Scheme 2019, notified in the Gujarat Government Gazette of May 6, 2019, there are amounts which are fixed as compensation for victims of various types of atrocities ranging from Rs 50,000 at the minimum to a maximum of Rs 10 lakh. The 2019 notification had substantially raised the compensation amount from the previous rates published in 2016.

But the apex court’s order granting Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis Bano had come out 14 days before the Gujarat government notified its raised compensation list. Maybe that was what Gujarat’s worry has been for the past six months — that it has to pay out more money than it wants to, to a victim of gang rape, mob violence and murder of her child.

The government of Gujarat could be running the risk of being misunderstood because, to the ignorant, it may well seem that in challenging the compensation, the Gujarat administration is disputing the heinousness of the crimes committed.

bilkis-690_100219015930.jpgIs the Gujarat administration is disputing the heinousness of the crimes committed? (Source: Reuters)

It may seem that the Gujarat government is batting on the side of the perpetrators of the crimes against Bilkis Bano. The state government’s desire for judicial review of the terms of compensation might be misunderstood as the state being sympathetic towards the rapists of Bilkis and also the person or persons who dashed her 3-year-old child’s head against a wall.

But all of this is clearly a misapprehension because a government in a democracy does not do this to its citizens. And the Gujarat model is something that the entire country tries to emulate, so there must have been some clerical mix-up or something of a similar nature that must have led to the non-payment of compensation to Bilkis.

The Supreme Court, however, cleared any confusion that Gujarat might have had. The court told the Gujarat government that there was nothing to review and that they better pay up the compensation within the next two weeks.

I wonder what will happen if they still don’t?

Will Bilkis Bano, like Ishrat Jahan’s mother, write a letter to the Supreme Court expressing her will to not fight the case anymore? Will Bilkis too, like Ishrat’s mother, give up saying, “After this prolonged fight for justice, I now feel hopeless and helpless...”?

Also read: What Nirbhaya and Bilkis Bano judgements say about our attitude towards sexual violence

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THE CYNIC THE CYNIC @cynic_today

The middle aged Cynic observes life through a sceptic’s prism. Be warned that the Cynic is a tattling voyeur with a caustic agenda.

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