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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 37 September 3, 2022

Bilkis Bano’s Case Amidst a Maddening Political Race! | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Saturday 3 September 2022, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

Nilofar Suhrawardy

This is a mad, mad world with even most celebrated leaders and of course extremely condemned ones too engaged in a maddening race. Rather than take measures to check it, strategies seem to be extensively and intensively devoted to prolong not one but numerous races at different levels provoking participants to exert as much energy as they can. It is not just the question of speakers going hoarse, protestors tiring out, victimized losing hope, soldiers having no choice but to fight on, impoverished facing death and so much more.

Noise made about importance of Indian cultural values, heritage and of course secularism appears to have simply been blown away with the recent incident of 11 prisoners having been released by Gujarat government. They were released as per Gujarat’s remission policy after their having completed more than 14 years of imprisonment. They had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of gang-rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family during 2002-Gujarat carnage, a dark chapter in Indian history, when more than 1000 Muslims were killed and assaulted. They had been earlier convicted by a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Mumbai on January 21, 2002. The charges were later upheld by Bombay High Court.

Of course, all criminals and their supporters have the right to opt for legal measures which can spell some relief for them. Remission has been opted for in case of 11 prisoners’ release. Remission, as per Indian laws, implies that under special circumstances duration of a sentence announced by court can be cut short. It does not change nature of crime, at least legally. But politically, release of 11 prisoners conveys a different message. One is that of their being garlanded and fed sweets as a part of “warm welcome” accorded to them at an office of a right-winged, extremist party associated with saffron brigade (Vishwa Hindu Parishad). Remission does not absolve them of charges for which they had been facing life imprisonment. They remain rapists and murderers. Should they be “honoured” in this manner simply because their victims were Muslims? At least, such an impression has been created.

The situation would have been different if 11 prisoners had apologized and/or expressed regret for their criminal behaviour. No word of remorse appears to have come forth from them and/or their supporters even as sympathy for what Bilkis Bano and her family faced in 2002. Equally deploring is their caste-label being used to describe them as “good citizens” by a member of Gujarat Assembly, CK Raulji. They have been described as “good people” with “good values” as they are Brahmins (high-caste Hindus) by Raulji, who belongs to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). BJP is in power at Centre and in Gujarat. Five of 10 members of review panel which granted remission to 11 prisoners are reportedly associated with BJP.

No word of Indian Constitution regards any caste, religion or section as immune from being punished for violating its measures. Sadly, statements suggesting this and nature of “welcome” accorded to those having been judicially convicted of charges levied against them is equivalent to practically elevating them for horrendous criminal behaviour they indulged in. What has happened to power of those claiming to uphold dictates of Indian Constitution?

One may also draw attention to abuses communities viewed as lower-caste Hindus are still suffering from. One of these groups is labelled as Dalits. While Brahmins are viewed as upper-most caste among Hindus, Dalits touch the bottom. A nine-year boy belonging to this community was allegedly beaten by his school teacher for drinking water from a pot that had been kept aside for the teacher. The incident took place on July 20 at a school in a village of Jalore district in Rajasthan. The boy received injuries in the eye and ear. He was taken to Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat, for treatment. He passed away on August 13. The teacher has been arrested and charged with murder. If the boy was a Brahmin, he would not have been probably beaten by the teacher.

There is another angle to both incidents. Gujarat Assembly (State Legislature) elections are scheduled later this year and that of Rajasthan in the coming year. While BJP heads the Gujarat state government, its rival Congress holds power in Rajasthan. In Gujarat, if electoral mileage is expected to be gained by release of 11 prisoners, it is but a sad reflection of bigotry, prejudice, narrow-mindedness and a lot more still dominating mind-set of those deciding such negative political shots.

Attempts being made to apparently divert people’s attention during this phase cannot but be taken note of. These include a sudden alacrity in “charges” levied against certain Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders, arrest of BJP leader in Hyderabad for his “derogatory” remarks against Prophet Mohammed and so forth. Undeniably, certain leaders appear to be experts at using strategies which can change media headlines to their advantage. This is irrespective of some of these moves being primarily manufactured/motivated towards grabbing headlines and diverting people’s attention from issues such as that of Bilkis Bano and other weaker sections being targeted.

Sadly, against maddening glamour of political power, it cannot be ignored, if Bilkis Bano was not a Muslim, she would not have been targeted during Gujarat-carnage and 11 released prisoners would not have been “honoured.” Abuse of weaker sections continues even after 75 years of India’s independence. And those supporting the same seem to be doing so with a sly smile. One cannot but describe them (abusers) as being a part of senseless, maddening rush which is least likely gain them anything but their own hollow praises.

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Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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