For 20 years, Bilkis Bano was on the run as her fight for justice was on, her lawyer Ms Gupta said.
Bilkis Bano has been in "acute shock" since she learnt that 11 men who raped her during the 2002 Gujarat riots, have been set free. The rapists were given a life term, but were released after 15-odd years by the Gujarat government, without even consulting, or informing her. The family is still reeling from the blow and "does not know how to react", said her lawyer Shobha Gupta in an exclusive interview to NDTV. The next legal steps are far from their mind.
The advocate, who has represented Bilkis Bano through her long battle, said the woman, who had undergone unspeakable horrors as a 21-year-old, had just started to relax.
"She had stared to learn to live in peace without having to run from one place to another to hide herself, look for her security," she said.
"For her, the battle was over with the last order of the Supreme Court in 2019, when the compensation was granted and it was the highest ever compensation in a rape case in this country. She was learning to live her life peacefully,'' she added.
What perhaps accentuated the family's trauma was the way they discovered the release.
"For the last two days, her husband Yakub has been calling me, asking if the Supreme Court is doing anything. There were rumours in their village and sweets were being distributed. He said, 'They are saying the Supreme Court has granted them early release'. I said, 'What are you talking? Nothing of that sort has happened. We have no news about it.' We had to dig up everything after getting to know. It is a shocker. Even I am unable to come to terms with it yet," she said.
The rape survivor, she said, should have been consulted or informed in view of her security concerns.
Bilkis Bano, 21 years old at the time, saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her toddler daughter. The woman, who was five months pregnant, was then gang-raped.
The attack took place on March 3, 2002. The family was hiding in the fields to escape the violence that had erupted after a coach in the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze, in which 59 kar sevaks were killed.
On Monday, as the nation celebrated 75 years of Independence, the rapists walked free, to be greeted with sweets and garlands.
The Gujarat government released them after one of them approached the Supreme Court seeking remission and it directed the state to look into the issue. A committee formed by the government had come to a unanimous decision in favour of remission, following the state's own policy of 1992.
Asked about the state government's decision at a time the Central guidelines for "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav" made it clear that convicts of rape and murder cannot be granted the privilege, Ms Gupta said the Centre is not alone in making this exception.
"Even the Supreme Court in a number of judgments, its various constitution benches... The policy of remission is always very clear. In the latest constitution bench judgment, it says it (remission) is not a matter of right. It is a benefit given to a convict after meeting certain tests," she said. She also questioned the decision to release all the convicts on basis of a plea by just one of them.