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‘Fight for justice’: Shobha Gupta, Advocate who supported rape survivor Bilkis Bano for 2 decades

Shobha Gupta

NEW DELHI, JANUARY 9: Twenty-one-year-old Bilkis Bano, 5 months pregnant, endured a harrowing ordeal as she fell victim to rape while fleeing the horrors of communal riots sparked by the Godhra train burning incident in February 2002. The brutality unfolded amid the chaos of the riots, claiming the lives of 7 family members, including her 3-year-old daughter.
And since 2003, Advocate Shobha Gupta has been a steadfast campaigner for Bilkis, providing unwavering assistance throughout the legal proceedings. For the past 2 decades, Gupta has relentlessly pursued her case from pillar to post to get her justice. Whether it was the lower court, the High Court, or the Supreme Court, she stood by her during all these years and very convincingly fought her case as a beacon of hope and justice.
On Monday, the Supreme Court restored justice to the gang-rape survivor by quashing the Gujarat Government’s remission of sentence to 11 life convicts in the case. In its 251-page judgment, the Supreme Court said the Gujarat Government had no jurisdiction to entertain the applications for remission of sentences and remarked that the State “acted in tandem and was complicit with the convicts”.
Speaking to TNIE, Shobha expressed her happiness about the Supreme Court verdict on Bano.
“The 11 convicts’ place is in jail, and they deserve it to be there. But the road to giving her justice has not been easy. Bilkis is very happy today, as I spoke to her after the verdict. This is a big victory for every one of us. Justice has prevailed.”
She believes that Bilkis’ triumph is not solely an individual’s struggle but a collective victory of hundreds of women who have suffered similar hardships. “I have faith in the judiciary, and thereby we filed this appeal in the top Court”, she said.
Bilkis Bano, now in her 40s, reacted with a sense of satisfaction over the judgment.
“Today is truly the New Year for me. I have wept tears of relief. I have smiled for the first time in over a year and a half. I have hugged my children. It feels like a stone the size of a mountain has been lifted from my chest, and I can breathe again”, she said in a statement issued through Shobha.
“This is what justice feels like. I thank the honourable Supreme Court of India for giving me, my children and women everywhere, this vindication and hope in the promise of equal justice for all”, she said.
Since 2003, the 54-year-old lawyer has been providing pro-bono services to Bilkis for the 2002 Gujarat riots, continuing her legal support to date. In 2019, the Supreme Court awarded the highest-ever compensation in an Indian court for a rape case, ruling in her favour and mandating the state to provide restitution. The unprecedented decision reflected the acknowledgement of the severe physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon her by the perpetrators. “In India, it takes a long time to get justice. Nevertheless, our judiciary is one of the best at giving justice to all”, Gupta said.
Gupta was a Standing Counsel of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for more than 16 years. As a lawyer, she has actively engaged in diverse social causes, offering pro bono legal assistance to juveniles entangled in legal issues, contributing to legal aid camps for the economically disadvantaged and providing general free legal support to the impoverished.
She also represented the National Human Rights Commission in several cases in the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court for more than a decade. She has a long association with various legal cases in private schools, which include fee fixation, guidelines regarding admission, amendments to the Payment of Gratuity Act, the Ganguly Committee’s recommendations and challenges to the Right to Education Act.
Gupta recently launched the social platform ‘We, the Women of India’ (WWI), dedicated to raising awareness about women’s human rights, fostering an equitable and respectful environment and aiding women in distress. With the effective collaboration of WWI members, the platform extended assistance to numerous individuals during the challenging second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She has worked as a panel lawyer for various Government, quasi-Government and private organizations, including the erstwhile Rajasthan State Electricity Board (now divided into 5 companies), National Small Industries Corporation Ltd. (NSIC, a Government of India enterprise) and Rajasthan State Road Development and Construction Corporation Ltd. (RSRDCC), a wholly owned undertaking of the Government of Rajasthan, for more than 10 years.
The lawyer is also the founder of “FLAG-Free Legal Aid Group”, which imparts free legal aid to juveniles found on the wrong side of the law. This group had the guidance and backing of senior SC Advocate Vijay Hansaria, retired SC Justice Madan B Lokur, a former Chairperson of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Delhi High Court and Minna Kabir, wife of former CJI Justice Altmas Kabir. She was single-handedly assigning work to the lawyers in the group, assisting them in preparing the matters to appear on the board each day.
(Courtesy: TNIE)