Bilkis regrets protectors-turned-perpetrators still free

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New Delhi, Jan 21 (UNI) Six years after she became the face of the Gujarat riots, a ''stronger'' Bilkis Bano today said she felt vindicated by the Mumbai Court judgement convicting 13 people in the case but regretted that the ''protectors-turned -perpetrators'' were still free.

''The courage of my truth saw me through. The judgement has finally meant some closure to a long and very painful journey.

Many wounds will never heal but I am stronger today, and for that I am thankful,'' she told reporters here.

Terming a ''victory'' the Mumbai Court judgement, Bilkis said nobody would be able to deny that sexual violence was perpetrated against women in Gujarat during the riots.

She, however, expressed anger that ''the State and its officials who emboldened, encouraged, and protected the criminals who destroyed life during the riots still remain free and unblemished''.

''It was their job to protect me. The battle I have won today gives me strength for the much larger and perhaps longer struggle, which lies ahead,'' she added.

Stating that she could not have made the six-year-long painful and fearful journey alone, Bilkis said she was grateful to the NHRC and the Supreme Court which transferred her case to Maharashtra.

She also singled out the CBI for special praise for ''uncovering the truth from under layers of lies and institutional cover-ups''.

''This judgement does not mean the end of hatred but it does mean that somewhere, somehow justice can prevail,'' Bilkis said.

A special CBI court in Mumbai today sentenced 11 people to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape and massacre case. A policeman was also handed down a three-year term.

All of them had been convicted by the court on January 18.

Seven other accused were acquitted by the court.

Fourteen members of Bilkis' family were killed by rioteers in Dahod district of Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra incident in 2002. Bilkis, who was six-month pregnant at that time, was also gangraped.

UNI RR MSJ HT1937

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