ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

'I Salute Bilkis Bano': Why Lucknow's Roop Rekha Verma Chose to Fight For Her

The former professor who became a co-petitioner said, "the remission order for the convicts was a shock for us."

Updated
India
5 min read
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large

Video Editor: Kriti Saxena

For 80-years-old Roop Rekha Verma, becoming a co-petitioner to fight for Bilkis Bano aligned with her politics and sense of justice and hence, as an ex-ad hoc Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University and former philosophy professor, it was a natural progression.

Verma was at Delhi airport to board a flight when she got a call from a friend, asking her if she would be willing to be included in the petition against Gujarat government's premature release of the 11 convicts jailed for gang-rape and multiple murders in the Bilkis Bano case.

"I happily agreed to become a co-petitioner," Verma told The Quint. She added, "After discussions, we realised that we had no other way but to go to the court. And on her behalf, file a petition. First, they looked for some people, and three of us agreed to give our names."

Thereafter, she jointly filed a petition with journalist Revati Laul against the remission and release order. On 8 January, the Supreme Court quashed the Gujarat government's decision.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

In this interview with The Quint, Verma talks about why she chose to fight for Bano and her experiences of being an activist for communal harmony in Uttar Pradesh.

The former professor who became a co-petitioner said, "the remission order for the convicts was a shock for us."

Former Professor Roop Rekha Verma in Lucknow.

(Photo: Aliza Noor/The Quint)

'Couldn't Digest How The Remission Was Even Granted'

Verma stated that the decision of remission by Gujarat government had come as a "shock" to her, one which she couldn't wrap her head around in the beginning.

"When the convicts were given remission and they were welcome with rituals ('poojas'), then for us and for a lot of our friends in different parts of the country, it was a shock for us. We couldn't believe how such a thing could happen in India," she remarked.

The former professor who became a co-petitioner said, "the remission order for the convicts was a shock for us."

Roop Rekha Verma in her office in Lucknow.

(Photo: Aliza Noor/The Quint)

"The ones who killed, gang-raped, to release them just like that without completing their punishment and then to give them so much respect, we weren't able to digest this."
Roop Rekha Verma to The Quint

Ten days after the apex court quashed the remission order, the court on Friday, 19 January, dismissed batch of applications filed by 10 of the 11 men convicted in the case, seeking more time to surrender before jail authorities,

Verma stated that Justice Nagarathna in her judgement had stated that Gujarat government that they took the permission from the Supreme Court by fraud, and all the facts that they should have shown were also concealed. She added that the apex court called out their "complicity in their support for the convicts and condemned it too."

The former professor who became a co-petitioner said, "the remission order for the convicts was a shock for us."

Roop Rekha Verma in conversation with The Quint.

(Photo: Aliza Noor/The Quint)

'What Do You Say to One Who Suffered So Much?'

Even though Verma has not met Bano yet, she has been well-acquainted with her plight since 2002 Gujarat riots. "I would like to meet her one day but I also feel that people meet and remind her of her struggle every day and that must torment her more," said Verma.

"One who has suffered so much, what do you even say to them? Words do not suffice. I can't tell you what I would say to her. Perhaps, I'm certain that I would salute her."
Roop Rekha Verma to The Quint

Adding that Bano did not just experience utmost violence and torture but also witnessed the death of all her loved ones and "saw her child being killed with such brutality."

0

From 'Ghar Todne-Wali' to 'Phoolan Devi'

In 2022, Verma also provided surety for then jailed Kerala journalist Siddiqui Kappan. After the Hathras gang-rape and murder victim died in 2020, she also took part in a candle-light protest for the victim in Lucknow.

"All we wanted was to pay our respect to the victim, but we were told by the police to only do it in our house," said Verma.

Back in Lucknow, Verma runs an NGO, 'Saajhi Duniya' through which she helps victims of gender-related crimes file cases in police stations, advocates against child marriage and fights social and structural inequalities. She had also fought to bring justice to the victim of 2005 Ashiana gang-rape case.

Having witnessed domestic violence as a child in her neighbour's house, she knew early on that any kind of injustice did not sit right with her. Ever since she was in college, she had taken part in protests and expressed solidarity for the marginalised.

"If you find 10 people who are praising your efforts and work, then there will be thousands of people who will say you're creating trouble," she said, adding that standing up for what's right often works as a ripple effect.

There were allegations against her when she was an ad-hoc VC in the Lucknow University too, she said. "People said even then that I do a lot of politics, that I am a ghar-todne wali, once I was also called 'Phoolan Devi' because there was some false accusation against me, I fought against it and won."

The former professor who became a co-petitioner said, "the remission order for the convicts was a shock for us."

Roop Rekha Verma recounts allegations against her.

(Photo: Aliza Noor/The Quint)

Now, instead of giving her an equal status as a citizen, you only give her two options: to either be a damsel in distress or be a Phoolan Devi, then I'd prefer to be called Phoolan Devi, not a damsel in distress...I am happy with that epithet.
Roop Rekha Verma to The Quint

Every now and then, a 2022 video of Verma distributing pamphlets goes viral on social media. Verma recalled that it was a joint effort by many professors and activists in Lucknow and the pamphlet meant to advocate for communal harmony.

"The way in 1857 and thereafter in the freedom struggle, every community fought against the British and we achieved freedom, the same way, we have to make our country. This is what was written in it, the gist of it," she stated.

However, she continued that more than speaking up or protesting, it's the response by state authorities that have changed. Verma herself has been through detention and house-arrests several times in the past few years.

"I am not saying bad things did not happen before. Under every regime and every government, something bad has happened, some have been worse than others. And always, irrespective of the political party, we have protested and will continue doing so," noted Verma.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from news and india

Topics:   Supreme Court   Gujarat   Lucknow 

Published: 
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
×
×