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People forced to leave Bilkis Bano village, SP denial

New Delhi— For Bilkis Bano, the meaning of “independence” changed on the day of August 15, 2022. It was on the same day that the Gujarat government released the 11 prisoners who gang-raped her and killed her family members. The prisoners’ release continues to be debated all over the country. An appeal has been made in the Supreme Court to return the culprits to prison. Here, Muslim families living in Randhikapur village, home of Bilkis Bano, have been forced to leave due to the developing atmosphere after the release of the convicts.

Many families have left the village

Villagers in Bilkis Bano’s native village of Randhikapurhave been leaving since the 11 freed accused arrived in the neighbouring village. Soon after their release, the police had been deployed in Randhikapur village, but more recently news has been coming that some people are leaving the village and heading for the cities. When we called a person in the village on the phone to ask for information about this, they declined to talk saying that they were busy. However, the media is consistently reporting that people have been leaving the village.

In a BBC video report, Bilkis Bano’s uncle, Ayub, has stated that there is an atmosphere of fear among the people. In case something untoward happens to them in night. Therefore, people from about 50 to 60 homes have already left the village and are heading towards the city. He explains that once the 11 accused were released, the Muslim locality of Randhikpur village started to empty. The people were scared. In case something unexpected happened to them. According to the news report, the houses have locks on them. Only a few people remain. Razzaq, standing next to Ayub [in the video], said that six people used to live in his house, but right now he is living there alone. He adds that he is being issued threats that he will be seen to. Ayub further says that about 400 to 500 people have left the village. The fear among the people seemed to be about how when the 11 accused came out of jail, they were given a ceremonious welcome. Now, in this country, if this is how criminals are welcomed back, then who will not be afraid?

Shahrukh Sheikh, who is from the same village, said that 70 Muslim families in the village are living under the shadow of fear. While many others have left. Some of these people have gone to the place of relatives. The people presently living in the village have said that they have appealed to the DM [district magistrate] to send the culprits back behind bars again. Along with this, the issue of safety of the villagers was also raised. On Monday, while submitting their memorandum to the DM of Darod, the villagers mentioned the atmosphere of fear among the villagers. Especially concerning is the safety of the women of the village. The villagers have also said that until the culprits are not arrested again, they will not return.

SP not confirming news about exodus 

We tried to contact the Dahod SP [superintendent of police] to confirm that people have exited the village. But they did not respond to our calls at all. According to media reports, the DCP [district commissioner of police] has stated that the police are contacting people in Randhikpur, and trying to address their concerns.

In contrast, Dahod SP Balram Meenahas stated that all 11 convicts belong to the nearby village of Singwad. But at present, they are not there. He has said that since August 15, no person has left from here. It has been more than a week since the incident happened. If there was an exodus, we would have known about it. Anyway, all the 11 convicts have gone from here. In such a situation, there is no reason for the villagers to be worried or to leave.

Let us remind you that during the Gujarat riots of 2002, Bilkis Bano had been gang-raped by 11 people from the nearby village. Seven people of her family had also been murdered at the same time. After 20 years of this incident, the convicts have now been released. And it is since their release that there is an atmosphere of fear in the village.

यहाँ हिन्दी में भी पढ़ें बिल्किस बानो के गांव के लोग पलायन को मजबूर, वहीं एसपी का पलायन से इंकार

[Story Translated By Lotika Singha]

Poonam Masih
Poonam Masih
Poonam Masih, Journalist The Mooknayak

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