BOMBAY, Nov 5: Indian prosecutors framed charges on Friday against 20 Hindus accused in the gang-rape of a Muslim woman and the killing of 14 Muslims during 2002 riots in western Gujarat state.
The charges involved "murder, gang-rape, and destruction of evidence" and would be read out to the accused on Nov 19 in the court, prosecutor R.K. Shah told AFP. The trial is seen as a key test of justice in India where there have been no major convictions from the riots in which at least 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were burnt, shot or hacked to death in the religious riots in Gujarat.
The case of Bilkis Bano Yakub Rasool, who said she was raped by a Hindu mob when she was five months pregnant, and the massacre of the 14 Muslims has become a 'cause' for human rights activists seeking to ensure punishment for those guilty of crimes during the riots.
Ms Rasool had publicly come forward as the only adult witness to a massacre on March 3, 2002, in Randhikpur village of Gujarat. She said a Hindu mob had raped her and killed 14 of her relatives, including her three-year-old daughter. She said two other women were also raped, as they tried to escape.
In August, India's Supreme Court ordered the case shifted to the neighbouring state of Maharashtra to ensure a fair trial. It has become known as the 'Bilkis Bano case' Human rights activists say intimidation of witnesses by rightwing Hindus has resulted in a few cases being brought to trial.
Gujarat police did not press charges until Ms Rasool went public and approached India's National Human Rights Commission. Twenty suspects now face trial. "I know I'm not the only one (victim). There are many women out there whose names and faces I do not know but whose pain I can feel," said Ms Rasool when the Supreme Court ordered the case tried in Maharashtra.
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