Reflecting on Bilkis Bano’s Resilient Pursuit of Justice


05:02 AM

1 min read

Why in News?

  • On January 8, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark ruling in the case of Bilkis Bano, a survivor of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
  • The ruling quashed the remission granted to 11 convicts, highlighting the court's commitment to upholding the integrity of the legal process.
  • While the decision has garnered applause, it also prompts a reflection on the justice system's effectiveness, especially for individuals with multiple subordinating identities.

The Symbolism of Bilkis Bano Case

  • A Symbol of Resilience
    • For many years, her situation has been a symbol of strength and a representation of the larger fight for justice for those who have experienced sexual and communal violence.
    • This case also highlights the various aspects that make up Ms. Bano's identity; being a Muslim woman in a society with biases against religious minorities and women and how this influences her access to justice.
  • Common Populace’s Desire for a Strong Justice System
    • The SC's decision to reject the reduction of sentence of convicted not only supports the fairness of the legal process but also emphasises the importance of consistently and impartially applying the law, regardless of the social and political situation.
    • The positive response to the verdict shows that people collectively desire a justice system that stands firm against impunity.
    • Highlights the Shortcomings of Justice System: While the ruling brings hope to the justice system, it also leads to a deep consideration of its shortcomings for individuals with multiple marginalised identities, especially when the state supports such crimes.

The Interplay of Justice and Intersectionality in Ms Bano’s Case

  • Intersectionality in the Legal Context
    • The legal system often addresses cases based on singular characteristics, such as gender or crime type, potentially overlooking the intersectional dimensions of an individual's identity.
    • Bano's (being a survivor of sexual violence) case prompts an exploration of how her experiences intersect with other facets of her identity, such as religion, socio-economic status, and regional background.
  • Religious and Cultural Dynamics
    • Considering Ms. Bano's association with a particular religious community, the case may have been influenced by the intersection of religious dynamics and legal proceedings.
    • Therefore, understanding how religious and cultural factors intersect with the pursuit of justice becomes imperative in comprehending the nuances of her experience within the legal system.

Some Other Issues Highlighted During Bilkis Bano Case

  • The Failure of Indian Prison System
    • Lack of Remorse and Celebratory Release
      • Despite spending approximately 15 years behind bars, the released convicts in Ms. Bano's case displayed a shocking absence of remorse.
      • Their jubilant reception, marked by garlanding and sweets from supporters and relatives, presented a disconcerting spectacle akin to celebrating returning heroes rather than individuals who had served time for a heinous crime.
      • This celebratory release not only contradicts the intended purpose of incarceration, which is rehabilitation, but also highlights a profound disconnect between the legal system's ideals and the stark reality of the convicts' mindset upon release.
    • Systemic Failure to Instigate Genuine Rehabilitation
      • The SC's reliance on Plato's curative theory of punishment seems misplaced when the prison system falls short of providing an environment conducive to genuine rehabilitation.
      • The lack of essential resources and rehabilitation programs within Indian prisons undermines the prospects of personal evolution during incarceration.
      • Bano's case becomes emblematic of this failure, as the convicted individuals, upon release, are unlikely to exhibit any meaningful transformation, raising questions about the efficacy of imprisonment in fostering positive change.
    • Glaring Gap between Legal Theory and Prison Realities
      • While the court's judgement may have invoked the principles of preventive punishment and reformation, the prison system often functions as a mere holding cell, lacking the necessary infrastructure and initiatives for effective rehabilitation.
      • The discord between legal ideals and the operational shortcomings of the prison system brings into question the viability of imprisonment as a mechanism for societal betterment and individual reformation.
  • Lingering Trauma and Absence of Personal Evolution
    • Bano's experience exemplifies the flaw in the system; the convicted individuals, even after serving their sentence, remain unreformed, leaving the survivor to grapple with a lingering sense of trauma.
    • The brief impact of the judgment highlights the systemic failure to deliver permanent justice or sustainable relief for survivors, as the released convicts are ill-prepared to reintegrate into society as responsible citizens.

Broader Issues Associated with Indian Criminal Justice System for Rape Survivors

  • Patriarchy in the Criminal Justice System
    • The criminal legal system, starting from police encounters to interactions with medical officers and the judiciary, is deeply entrenched with patriarchy.
    • This patriarchal influence contributes to survivors' reluctance to report cases, as the system often dismisses complaints and survivors have to go through insensitive questioning, exacerbating their trauma.
  • Hostile Environment during Rape Trials
    • The rape trial in Indian criminal justice system has been termed as pornographic, emphasising the retraumatising nature of the questions survivors endure.
    • Questions like Why were you out so late? or Why were you alone? perpetuate victim-blaming, insinuating that the survivor's actions somehow warranted the heinous crime against them.
    • The questions survivors face during the legal process serve to gaslight them, implying that their choices or behaviour justified the crime committed against them.
    • This culture of victim-blaming further erodes trust in the criminal justice system, discouraging survivors from seeking legal remedies and perpetuating a cycle of silence.

The Concept of Carceral Feminism and Its Drawback

  • The Concept of Carceral Feminism
    • Coined by Elizabeth Bernstein, carceral feminism explores the complexities of feminist advocacy within a punitive state.
    • It raises questions about the potential alliance between feminism and the state, acknowledging the state's dual role as a potential ally of patriarchy and a depriver of liberties.
  • Drawback: Carceral Feminists’ Misplaced Demands
    • In the context of India, feminist movements often call for stricter penalties under the law as a means to combat sexual violence.
    • However, this approach overlooks the deep-rooted mistrust in the criminal justice system, which is entwined with pervasive patriarchy at every level.
    • Carceral feminism's reliance on legal reforms and stricter penalties as a primary solution overlooks the deeper structural issues within the criminal justice system.
    • Mere legal changes may not address the pervasive patriarchal attitudes that permeate every stage of the legal process.

Way Forward: Need for Holistic, Victim-Centred Approach

  • Recognising the limitations of carceral feminism, there is a growing need for a more victim-centred approach that goes beyond punitive measures.
  • Fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and genuine rehabilitation for survivors should be prioritised over a singular focus on legal remedies.
  • Striving for justice should involve hearing survivors' voices, acknowledging their pain, and validating their quest for justice in addition to relying on the legal system.


  • The inadequacy of prisons and the pitfalls of carceral feminism underscore the urgent need for a more nuanced approach to justice.
  • The celebration of Ms. Bano's triumph should serve as a catalyst for systemic changes, fostering a society where survivors are supported, and justice is comprehensive, dignified, and safeguarded against the limitations of punitive measures.
  • The quest for justice must extend beyond legal avenues, promoting a culture of understanding, empathy, and genuine rehabilitation for a more just and compassionate society.