Advocate Shobha: Force Behind Bilkis Bano’s Road To Justice
Along with 2002 Gujarat Riot and gang rape survivor Bilkis Bano, Advocate Shobha felt relieved and at peace when the Supreme Court recently ordered the Gujarat government to pay Rs 50 Lakh exemplary compensation to Bano. With this judgment, not only was justice served in its entirety but it is also the largest amount of exemplary compensation awarded to a survivor of communal and sexual violence in history. Advocate Shobha fought the case with grit and determination since the time she took it up in 2003. When we asked her what made her take up the case, she responded by saying, “The case was so painful and what Bilkis had gone through was so gross that I was more than willing to take it up.”
HOW SHE TOOK UP THE CASE
She started practising law in 1995, so she was still finding her footing in the profession when she took up Bano’s case. In an exclusive interview with SheThePeople.TV she recounts the incident, “Justice AS Anand was the chairperson of NHRC at the time and he had come across the closure report of this case, he was immensely disturbed by the report. He was disturbed because in the Bilkis’ papers, like her complaint, had a self-narrated account of what had happened, she had named the accused persons. However, her closure report said that her FIR is unnamed, the accused persons are not traceable and therefore it was closed and the magistrate had accepted it.
I had heard about Gujarat riots and the atrocities that had happened with concern, as a citizen, as a lawyer and in my personal capacity. And so, the moment we collected all the papers, and after speaking to a local lawyer of Gujarat, and speaking with the NGOs who were associated with her since the beginning, we decided to file a writ petition.”
The only thing left then was to adopt the long-drawn course of challenging the magistrate’s order and take it up first with the additional district judge then to the High Court and then finally to the Supreme Court. Adding further she says, “The question was also if we should take the long course of statutory provision available in law or invoke extraordinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court? After looking at the facts of this case and the gravity of the crime and knowing fully well that it will take several years, we thought it appropriate to take a chance and invoke extraordinary jurisdiction (Article 32) and we hoped that it will be accepted.”
VICTORY IN PIECES
It took 17 years of consistent effort and a well-put fight that gave Bano the justice that she deserved. Through these 17 years, there were many victories that kept coming Advocate Shobha’s and Bano’s way. These include: when the trial court convicted the 11 persons for life sentence and then in 2017 when the Bombay High Court upheld the trail court judgment. Apart from that, the HC also overturned the acquittals of seven Police officers and doctors—convicted for evidence tampering with intent to screen offenders and save them from punishment.
KNOWING BILKIS THROUGH ADVOCATE SHOBHA
We as lawyers come across several cases but hers is one of the gravest. Initially, when we met in Delhi, when she came to file the affidavit for the writ petition in 2003, I remember during those days she preferred not to speak at all.
About the extraordinary courage that Bilkis showed throughout the proceedings of the case and when she first met her, Shobha says, “Initially, I considered her as someone who needs to be protected by us even though she is a brave woman and an inspiration for all of us. We as lawyers come across several cases but hers is one of the gravest. Initially, when we met in Delhi, when she came to file the affidavit for the writ petition in 2003, I remember during those days she preferred not to speak at all.
She had suffered an acute level of trauma. I don’t know whether she had any hope left then or not but she was very persuasive. All along she knew that she had to fight it out and that determination used to instil confidence in all of us, we knew that the system had failed her totally so now we cannot fail her.”
There is no dearth of respect and salutations for Bano or the NGOs and the organisations that helped her put up this brave fight. But, Advocate Shobha’s sheer resistance against the corrupt state machinery, resilience in ensuring that Bano gets the highest compensation along with actions taken against all the convicts in the case, shouldn’t go unnoticed.