Bilkis Bano a name and face most of us are familiar with ever since she decided to fight for justice.

Many women hold her in high regard. I do too. The price she paid for the sake of justice was enormous; she had to shift houses several times, opt for anonymity, remain faceless, and been the recipient of countless lies and death threats. Her reward, justice. For sometime at least.

Ironically on our 75th Independence Day, justice was snatched away from her. As I read about the remission granted, I was saddened and angry with the manner in which the officials, the people with the power, used the power to set not the oppressed but the oppressor(s) free.

Which brings me to the question; what did Bilkis Bano really want? Revenge? No. Fame? No. To be the poster girl for her community? No.

All Bilkis wanted and still wants is justice. For herself, her murdered daughter, her dead cousin, her baby and the others who were slain the night a mob went on a rampage.

So many of our survivors fight for justice. Not revenge but justice. Though violated, they are still innocent in so many ways and won’t be able to comprehend what revenge is. If you really think about it, would any form or degree of revenge be able to recompense all they lost; childhood, health, dignity, virginity, opportunities, innocence, laughter, family…?

No.

What these young girls want is justice, not only for themselves, but also for the other girls and women abused and sold by perpetrators. Imagine these vulnerable victims in court, the defense team maligning them, ridiculing them, making them repeat sordid details of their past, only to have the judge clinically dismissing the case, citing it as a weak case without sufficient evidence and acquitting the accused or granting bail to the accused thanks to his/her lawyer’s stellar performance which convinced the judge about the life threatening illness of his client or client’s mother.

I am reminded of Sachin a repeat offender, who grabbed a number of women and children from different states and forced them into prostitution. He was arrested a few times and was granted bail by the Sessions Court and the High Court. On 21 August 2021, Sachin was nabbed during a raid. Once again he applied for bail, but this time we were ready and opposed his bail application in the Sessions Court. An exciting but short victory. In December 2021, Sachin was granted bail by the High Court. He too was given a hero’s welcome after a four month stint in prison, his friends released a video on social media, The King is Back.

Should the Sachins’ of India be granted bail when they have continued their criminal activities while out on bail? Should the 11 convicts that terrorized an entire community and murdered many of them in cold blood be granted a remission ?

We, like Martin Luther King Jr. refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so on behalf of the survivors we helped rescue, we have come to cash this check, a check that will give upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

You and us like the Civil Rights movement have with the survivors made up a freedom train.

Catherine Raja, Freedom Firm, National Director