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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 37 September 3, 2022

Bilkis Bano & Brahminical Insensitivity | Kobad Ghandy

Saturday 3 September 2022, by Kobad Ghandy


On the same day that the PM was waxing eloquent on the importance of Stree Shakti from the ramparts of the Red Fort, 11 prisoners convicted for life for the brutal gang rape of Bilkis Bano and many of her family members and the murder of 14, were given remission by the Gujrat Government and released. The action has shocked not only the nation but also the entire world, given the gruesomeness of that gang rape and murder.

A member of the Committee that ordered the release was the BJP MLA from Godhra. When asked about why the decision had been made, he told Barkha Dutt’s Mojo Story that the men were Brahmins and since they are of so high a caste, their ‘sanskar’ was good. What was even worse was the sickening reception they got, being greeted with garlands, sweets, and prayers as if they were heroes and not demons, all caught on video.

To recount the events. Bilkis, her mother, and three other family members were gang raped and brutally assaulted soon after the burning on the Sabarmati Express in 2002. Of the 17-member group of Muslims from Radhikpur village, eight were found dead, six were missing. This was part of the Godhra massacres in which over 1000 people were killed. The gruesomeness of the event is indicated by the fact that Bilkis was 5 months pregnant when she was gangraped and left for dead. She was raped in front of her mother, then forced to watch the rape of her mother and two sisters. Worse still, her three-year old daughter’s head was smashed by a rock before her very eyes.

This is what Bilkis Bano said in her own words to Barkha Dutt;

"All the 4 men of my family were killed brutally. The women were stripped naked and raped by many men. They caught me too. My 3-year old daughter, Saleha, was in my arms. They snatched her and threw her into the air with all their might. My heart broke as her little head shattered on the rocks. Four men caught me by the arms and legs and many others entered me one by one. When satisfying their lust, they kicked me and beat my head with a rod. Assuming that I was dead they threw me into the bushes. Four or five hours later I regained consciousness. I searched for some rags to cover my body, but couldn’t find any. I spent a day and a half on a hilltop without food or water. I longed for death. Finally, I managed to find a tribal colony. Declaring myself as a Hindu I sought shelter there. Those men were using such foul language, I can’t repeat it ever. In front of me they killed my mother, sister and 12 other relatives. While raping and killing us, they were shouting sexual abuses. I could not even tell them that I was five months pregnant because their feet were on my mouth and neck. The conviction and imprisonment of my rapists does not mean the end of hatred. But it does mean that somewhere justice can succeed. I have known the men who raped me for many years. We sold them milk. They were our customers. If they had any shame, they would not have done this to me. How can I forgive them?"

The brutality was such that even the courts of that time could not keep silent. The accused in the case were arrested in 2004 and the trial began in Ahmedabad. However, after Bilkis expressed apprehensions that witnesses could be harmed and the evidence collected by the CBI tampered with, the apex court transferred the case to Mumbai. On 21 January 2008, the Special CBI Court sentenced 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charges of conspiring to rape a pregnant woman, murder and unlawful assembly under the Indian Penal Code. The court acquitted seven others accused for lack of evidence. One of the accused had died during the trial. In May 2017 the conviction was upheld by the Mumbai High Court.

After conviction they were sent to the Godhra sub-jail where they lived like kings and were allowed out numerous times on parole varying 2-3 months for petty reasons like someone’s wedding, a house-warming ceremony, mother’s minor operation, etc. Such treatment is never given to prisoners especially ones facing heinous crimes. The difference in attitude can be seen from the treatment meted out to the Koregaon Bhim accused who are not even sentenced and undertrials. And while rapists and murderers get remission the senior lawyer who fought for the victims of the Gujarat pogroms is in jail. What is more it is alleged they regularly threatened the witnesses while out on parole.

Of course, this whole procedure of release of life convicts is questionable as it is decided by a board led by the CM, and while in jail I heard numerous cases of its misuse, where those with influence would get released while others would languish for 20-25 years and more. It is a most arbitrary procedure, and in Delhi I heard that when Sheila Dixit was the CM hardly anyone would be released and she would convene the meeting once a year when it should have been every 3 months. While I was there Kejriwal as CM, was not much better. In Hyderabad jail there is the Naxalite prisoner, Ganesh, in jail since 1997 not yet released though the entire state government and local police have passed his release, but being a CBI case it is for the Centre to decide. No one could be more pleasant a person that Ganesh, a brilliant chess player (regularly defeated me) and has planted in the jail compound nearly every type of fruit tree. Ask any jail authority about Ganesh and see what they have to say regarding “good behaviour”. In this case the govt applied the 1992 remission policy, ignoring the updated 2014 policy which lists gangrape and murder as offences for which remission is impermissible. Also, it ignored the provision that the board should consider the opinion of the presiding judge that passed the conviction.

Significantly it was, in 2003, with the NHRC’s crucial intervention that ensured legal assistance for Bano to approach the Supreme Court after the Gujarat police closed the case. At the behest of the SC a fresh probe was ordered and the case was transferred to Mumbai. Though the present NHRC has now agreed to look into the release of the 11, most members of the commission either said they were not aware of the issue or declined to comment, including the chairperson of the Minorities Commission and that of the SC/ST Commission who are exofficio members.

The question here is not merely the Bilkis Bano issue but why do such horrific brutalities keep recurring in India mostly with little or no action taken. We see a similar viciousness in the anti-sikh pogroms of 1984; then again the anti-Muslim pogroms in the wake of the Babri Masjid issue in the 1990s; then this Gujarat pogrom in 2002; regular dalit massacres with the rape and killing of dalit girls; the regular gau rakshak killings, the rape and killing of women (even young girls and children) ad nauseam, the anti-Muslim attitude of the middle class where even in Mumbai they will not be given flats (for sale or rent); and, finally, the lynching and rape of Dalits is a common occurrence, which has seen a recent resurgence in UP particularly, with barely a report in the press. This insensitivity is also seen in many a feminist who make a big issue when some middle-class woman faces a sexual harassment, but are mostly silent when dalit women are brutally raped and brutalised in horrific fashion. Also, in the Bilkis issue many a politician are silent.

One saw a similar insensitivity to the migrant labour during the first phase of the lockdown. With just four hours’ notice the entire country was veritably put under house arrest, the migrants had neither food nor travel facilities. It was nothing but a forced death; and when they tried to reach their homes trekking hundreds of kilometres in the hot sun, they were regularly lathi-charged by police for breaking lockdown rules. Most such migrants were SC, ST or Muslims. The inhumanity then reached peak levels not seen in any other country. And if it had not been for the humanitarian assistance of common people lakhs more would have died of starvation or exhaustion. But the government could not be bothered even though they had millions of tonnes of surplus foodgrain rotting in their warehouses, probably being eaten by rats. Even many elites were more interested in locking themselves up in their cosy houses and continuing work from home, not bothered about the plight of the millions

The same insensitivity is seen in the treatment of Muslim freedom fighters who gave their lives for the country, most of them are ignored even by the left historians. So, to just mention a few, has one heard of Enayat Ali, Wilayat Ali, Karamat Ali, Zainuddin, Farhat Husain, and others who led an armed struggle against the British. In Maharashtra, Ibrahim Khan, a Rohilla leader, and Balwant Phadke launched a guerrilla war against the British. They provided a tough resistance through the 1860s and 70s, and threatened the British in south India. There were hundreds more Muslims who gave their lives for India’s freedom but ignored.

In addition, the history of revolutionary fighters like Uda Devi, Jhalkari Bai, Rani Gaidinliu, and Kuyili remains blurred as they come from the Scheduled Castes and were also women. Then there was Pingali Venkayya, a forgotten name behind India’s National Flag who died In poverty. So also the historic tribal revolts are ignored and the martyrdom of their leaders glossed over.

What is the root cause of such inhumanity and insensitivity that a ruling elite and many middle-class display towards its own people. In all other countries of the world the poor are exploited for the benefit of the rich, but here, in addition to that, it is commonplace for a section of the populace to be considered no more than chattels. Brahminical superiority and ego inculcates such an attitude that treats the SCs, STs, women and now Muslims as also the lower rungs of the OBCs as dispensable and their rape and murder is considered by them, not as a crime, but something to be proud of and boasted about everywhere. We saw this with Bilkis we see this with the rape and lynching of Dalits on a daily basis. At best they are proud of their deeds, at worst it is treated like the destruction of some inanimate object — probably they may feel worse if a precious vessel is broken in their house than when their dalit servant is raped and killed.

Brahminism’s inhumanity is reflected in treating an entire section of the population as untouchables where even their shadow was once considered as paap (sin). And this is not just in the middle-ages. A few days back a sessions judge who granted anticipatory bail to Civic Chandran (a famous writer and poet of the left) who is alleged to have sexually molested a dalit writer said it is “highly unbelievable that he will touch the body of the victim fully knowing that she is a member of the SC...”. And this was in Kerala supposed to be more progressive than the Hindi belt states.

 Further, Brahminism breeds the worst forms of patriarchy (not the bourgeois variety) where women are veritable chattels, kept in burkha/ghunghat, treated as sexual objects and/or child production machines, possessions of their husband with no independence, defacto slaves/servants to do the house work, and disposed off at random when of little use.

 Brahminism also breeds an inflated ego and a sense of superiority (sanskar) just due to one’s birth. It has the utmost contempt for manual labour; thus, unlike any other country we see officers with a retinue of clerks to carry their personal belongings etc.

Worst of all it promotes the concept of detachment as though to show attachment to others is the greatest sin — widely promoted by new-age gurus to give confidence to those with psychological hurt from their environment. Though this may give an escape from hurt wounds, this gives no solution to the ills of alienation, selfishness, greed etc that exist. Instead of working to remove these evils in society what this does, in essence, is turn humans into veritable robots, with extreme individualism, totally insensitive to one’s surroundings and others and thereby try and avoid being hurt in that way. The result is perpetuation of the evils wile turning humanity into robots.

It is this, combined with all the other concepts of Brahminism, that turns the person into a monster, the type of which we do not witness in other societies, totally insensitive to others, particularly the lower castes, Muslims, women and the oppressed.

Though the Bilkis Bano case is really disgusting and reflects an extreme form of Brahminical patriarchal oppression, there are varied milder forms but often equally humiliating and pernicious. Its manifestation here is only the tip of the iceberg. The psychology/pathology of Brahminical pride and ego create the consciousness that the other SC, ST, women, Muslim are dispensable - killed murdered, raped, tortured anything, it does not matter - there is no feeling of remorse whatsoever. Internally they would even be celebrating the event. Remorse may be felt for a dead cow or a for a broken pot but not a dismembered human being. No other country in the world would treat their own people like this. As already mentioned, the best example of this was the attitude towards the migrants during the first lock down, not just of the government but also a section of the people.

But such cruelty and inhumanity is nothing new. After all, orthodox brahminical cruelty and violence has a long tradition in Indian history. Nearly 3000 years back the Charvakas/Lokayata came forward with an extremely rational philosophy for their times. Unheard of even centuries later in most parts of the world. Not only have they been effaced from all historical records but even their works are untraceable -probably burnt. All one gets to know of the Charvakas is from those who criticised them. Next, we have the atheist and humanist philosophy of Buddhism, which too was not allowed to strike root here but spread widely in the East. Buddhism struggled with Brahminism for over 1000 years but finally it was defeated by the orthodox with little impact remaining here but influencing most of East Asia. Since Ashoka’s rule in the 3rd century BC, when it was at its peak, it reigned supreme in most of India due to state patronage. Then, through policies of cunning and assimilation into the Hindu fold (by both absorbing some of its tenets and also treating Buddha as an avtar of Vishnu) and vicious attacks after the rise of Shankaracharya in the 8th century AD, it was totally obliterated from India. The destruction of many monasteries and stupas resulted in the Buddhist order being almost entirely eradicated. After Buddha, came the Bhakti saints most of whom were brutally killed by the orthodox whether it was Tukaram, Basavanna, Chaitanya the Sikh gurus or many others. Coming to the present era they did not even spare a Dhabolkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh who were by no means radical but merely democrats against orthodox Hinduism.

The Bilkis Bano case is merely one other example of this extreme form of Brahminical insensitivity, with which large parts of the people are infected. This ideology permeates down the caste ladder and is not confined to the upper castes alone. It is particularly prevalent in the OBCs upper crust and even spreads to the NRI community abroad who live in a relatively democratic environment. Unlike those who promote identity politics it is not brahmins per se who are like that, as there are many liberal/progressive ones. Its viciousness lies in its ideology and those who represent and promote it in every sphere of activity — social relations, politics, economic activities, education, even food and clothes — who are the real culprits. The gruesome brutality of the murders and gang rape of Bilkis means nothing to such people even though all this was done by neighbours.

Unless the Brahminical system, with its superiority stamped from birth and its ideology that breeds such inhumanity and insensitivity, is totally eradicated from its roots, there is no hope for a humane existence, let alone democracy in this country - at least not for the majority. After all, did not V.D. Sawarkar openly also profess similar views? He has reportedly written in the book “ Bharatiya Itihasatil Saha Soneri Pane” (Marathi), that rape should be weaponized against the Muslim enemy. The members of the panel who released them with a unanimous decision stated “they are brahmins and men of sanskar”........That explains it all.

August 29 2022

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