2 hours agoAuthor: Sandhya Dwivedi
11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case have been released after 18 years in jail. But this release has been challenged in court. Supreme Court is hearing. And that too the Constitutional Bench, that is, the Constitutional Bench. Two days’ hearing has also taken place.
There are only two living characters in this case, one Bilkis himself and the other Saddam, a child of only 7 years of age at the time of the incident. Saddam is the only person who was the only eyewitness to the whole incident other than Bilkis in the Bilkis Bano case. You must have read and heard the story of Bilkis. Read Saddam’s story today…
‘When I regained consciousness, Ammi had sword wounds on her chest. There was not a single cloth on his body. I cried out loud, wake up mommy, get up mommy. But, she didn’t get up. She was dead’, says Saddam Sheikh in a trembling voice. Saddam is now 27 years old, but while telling this, only a 6-7 year old child is seen in fear, in front of whom his mother’s body is lying.
This is a childhood photo of Saddam. It was at this age that he had seen the cruelty of the rioters. Saddam is the relative of Bilkis and the only eyewitness to the incident.
On February 27, 2002, two coaches of the Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya to Gujarat were set on fire. 59 pilgrims were killed in this. The dead included 9 men, 25 children and 25 women. Within hours, reports of violence erupting from many parts of Gujarat started pouring in. By nightfall, this violence reached a settlement in Randhikpur village of Dahod, about 50 km from Godhra.
On the day the train was burnt in Godhra, in the evening a mob carrying weapons came to Randhikpur village. The people of the village stood in front, so the rioters had to return. -Illustration: Gautam Chakraborty
When the old uncle stopped the rioters, he hit them with an iron pipe.
Saying this, Saddam Sheikh sticks his 4-year-old child a little closer to the chest. Then let’s start reciting- ‘It was late evening on February 27, 2002, it was dark and I was playing with my friends. Suddenly people came in 4-5 big vehicles. They were shouting, kill, burn. But the youth, women, elders of the settlement stood as a wall. He had to return.
The next day, on the morning of 28 February, Thursday morning, fearing the attack, we left the village in groups. Bilkis was also in the team that my mother and I were in. We didn’t even take any luggage with us in a hurry.
The people of the settlement started feeling that now it is not safe for them to live in the village. Therefore, on the morning of February 28, they left the village in different groups. One of these groups was Saddam and Bilquis. -Illustration: Gautam Chakraborty
We had walked about 40 kilometers in the forests of Kesar Bagh for 3 days. It was a Sunday, March 3, 2002, when we saw some people coming towards us. In his hands were swords, sickles, axes and iron pipes. He came and started killing. There was an elderly uncle, he folded his hands to let us go. Everyone started pleading, but they hit the pipe on uncle’s head. They fell there.’
Shamim’s daughter was born a day ago, threw her into the ditch
Saddam pauses for a while while narrating this story again and again, then, while managing himself, starts narrating further – ‘The rioters started killing everyone. There was a stampede. My mother took me by the hand and started running towards the other side. Then someone rescued me from my mother and threw me in a pit. We also had Shamim with us, who had given birth to a baby girl a day earlier. They threw Shamim’s child in the ditch in front of me. put a stone on me. After that I fainted.
On March 3, a mob of rioters surrounded Bilkis’s group. With weapons in their hands, this mob started beating. Gang raped women. Killed the children. Saddam was also attacked, but he survived. -Illustration: Gautam Chakraborty
When I regained consciousness, a voice came in my ears. water water. He was my uncle’s son. A little younger than me Maybe 5 years old. I went to the river to get water for him. There was a river right next to where the accident took place. By the time I brought water, he was dead.’
Ammi’s body was on the ground, there was no cloth on her body.
Saddam’s voice started drying again, I turned off the camera. He comforted them and after sometime started talking again. He started speaking, then I went to Ammi. Mother was lying on the ground. I shook them. I said – wake up Ammi – wake up Ammi, but she did not get up. There was not a single cloth on his body. Everyone was dead there.
When we left the village, Bilkis was also with us, but after regaining consciousness, I did not see her. Dead bodies were scattered all around. I sat there. After a while some people from the village came, then the policemen came and took me away. Ammi was lying there. I left them, had to leave.’
6 women including Bilkis, Ammi gang-raped
Saddam says – 6 women were gang-raped in that place, besides Bilkis, Meri Ammi Amina, 4 more women were also there. Everyone was killed except Bilkis and me. I was treated at Dahod Camp. After that I started living in the camp with my brothers. My brother had left Randhikpur in a different group, so he survived.
The policemen left Saddam at the Dahod Relief Camp. The family was over, so Saddam stayed in the camp with the brothers. From here his maternal uncle Mukhtar took him with him. -Illustration: Gautam Chakraborty
One day Mukhtar uncle came there. He saw me sitting outside in the winter. I wore less clothes. From there they took me with them. I started living with them. Mukhtar Mohammad, a resident of Ahmedabad, remained with him at every step in the battle of Bilkis. Bilkis stayed at Mukhtar’s maternal uncle’s house for several months. He also took me with him.
Like Bilquis, Saddam also lost everything, no one took care of him
Bilquis fought a long battle. He lost his two children in the riots. One was in the stomach, then the other girl was three and a half years old. Abbu, Ammi, two sisters, two brothers. Other family members were also victims of the accident. Saddam’s mother Amina was Bilkis’ sister in the relationship.
The government announced a house, a job and 50 lakhs to Bilkis. Home and job have not been found yet, but money has been received. Other Godhra riot victims got compensation, but nothing to Saddam. Appeared, but nothing happened.
This is Mukhtar Mohammad. Mukhtar, a resident of Ahmedabad, was helpful to Bilkis from the beginning. He also supported Saddam. Saddam still does business with them.
Mukhtar Mohammad says, ‘Saddam also lost his mother in the riots. When Saddam’s brothers did not support him, I brought him along. When Saddam became a witness in the case of Bilkis, seeing the danger looming on him, I sent him to my mother in Ahmedabad. Tried a lot to teach him. But Saddam was in shock.
Saddam is married and has a 4-year-old son. Saddam allowed us to take his own photo, but stopped us from taking the wife’s photo.
Even after many efforts, I could not educate that child. Such was not his state of mind. He was silent and stunned. He had seen such a terrible scene, seeing that the hearts of elders should be shaken, then he was a small child of 6-7 years.
Saddam also made rounds of the court, fearing death-attack but persevering. Perhaps no one cared about that little child, who had seen the body of his mother Amina lying on the ground.
There is no sign except the memory of Ammi, not even a photo.
Saddam with sad eyes says- ‘I left the village with my mother. There was a fear of attack, we left empty handed. I don’t even have any sign of mother. Not even a photo.’ When Mukhtar saw that no one was taking care of Saddam, he also engaged him in work with him. Saddam is now doing footwear business together with Mukhtar.
Saddam is married. He has a 4 year old child. “We have changed three houses in the last three years,” says his wife. Had he had his own house, he would have been able to live permanently. It is not possible to return to the village. The atmosphere is not good and there is always a threat to Saddam. Know why the government or other people, no one has taken care of Saddam till date?’
The wife becomes silent, then Saddam speaks – ‘Do not take her (wife) picture, nor should her name come anywhere. If possible, do not mention them in the story. After this there was silence in the room for a long time.
(Read in the sequel to this series, what happened to Bilkis that day. Ground reports from the jungles where 6 women were gang-raped and 13 people were murdered. Police and doctors even refused to admit gangrape) Diya. Bhaskar also went to the house of the culprits. What happened there, read this in the third episode…)