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Bilkis Bano Case: Women of the world, unite because enough is enough | OPINION

After Nirbhaya, the entire country wanted the perpetrators hanged till death. Where is the outrage now? Have we sold our souls to the devil, or is something more sinister happening in India?

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Bilkis Bano Case: Women of the world, unite because enough is enough | OPINION
Women of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your shackles. (India Today Image)

By Saira Shah Halim: Is Bilkis Bano a Muslim or a Woman? This requires an immediate answer from the ruling dispensation.

The opposition, get your act together. There must be zero tolerance for bigots because enough is enough. You have written enough on how the country is going to the dogs. Nothing has changed, the fascists are still around, and it's not getting any prettier.

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Women of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your shackles.

Time to hit the streets is now, because enough is truly enough!

ALSO READ | Don’t blame judiciary for release of rapists, says judge who upheld Bilkis Bano case conviction

In a “Modified” India, rapists and criminals walk free, the ones who fact-check, expose hate crimes, and fight for equal citizenship rights are behind bars. Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, anyone?

In 2012, when 23-year-old Nirbhaya was raped and brutalised till she died, the entire country wanted the perpetrators of the heinous crime to be hanged till death.

Where is the outrage now, I wonder. Have we sold our souls to the devil, or is something more sinister happening in the country?

In 2022, the Gujarat government releases Bilkis Bano’s rapists. The year is 2002. Five months pregnant Bilkis is gang-raped by 11 men, her 3-year-old daughter’s head is smashed with a stone, she is beaten up till she dies. Fourteen members of her family are killed before her eyes. The rapists leave Bilkis Bano, mistaking her to be dead.

But Bilkis Bano survived for twenty years, knocking on justice’s door just to see the men who devoured and devastated her and her family walk scot-free after fifteen years in jail as one of them moved a plea for a premature release.

ALSO READ | Bilkis Bano case: Activists, historians among 6,000 urge SC to revoke release of convicts

Releasing rape convicts and hailing them as heroes only exposes our morally corrupt fibre. Wonder if 75 years of independence is worth celebrating with so much pomp and fervour when our country’s policy-makers, supposed to safeguard the honour of its citizens, especially women, are busy shielding rapists and criminals, ideating their easy passage out of jail to a rousing welcome.

And in a “Modified” India, how do we ensure that the culprits redeem themselves? By remitting their life sentence, by garlanding them, by taking out ‘Aarti’ in their honour and wrapping up the welcome party by distributing sweets?

The remission didn’t surprise me. The minorities in India have become so thick-skinned now that nothing surprises us, not the dehumanising bit, the constant barbs, the kicks, lynchings and abuses.

After all, two BJP MLAs were part of the panel that suggested the remission and premature release of the convicts.

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Which sane society showers hardened criminals with rose petals, garlands them, and seeks their blessings?

If this doesn’t shake the core of our conscience, what else will?

Irony touched a new low on 15th August 2022. Just as PM Modi was delivering his Independence Day speech, where he stressed on respect for women and how humiliation of women will not be tolerated in India.
Respect for women is an important pillar of India’s growth. We need to support our ‘Nari Shakti’, the PM said.

On the same day, 11 convicts, who were serving life sentences, walked out of Godhra sub-jail under the Gujarat government’s remission policy.

ALSO READ | 2002 Gujarat riots: My case is about state's shameful failure in protecting its people, says Bilkis Bano

Let’s not forget that Bilkis Bano was gang-raped and 14 of her family members were murdered by her neighbours whom she addressed as chacha and bhaiya, just to see them released citing their caste.

But then they were Brahmins, men of good sanskaar. They were just angry.

We know that post 2014, justice is equally proportionate to the religion one follows. In fact, dehumanising, killing, lynching, and raping are treated as a badge of honour for adherents of the far right in India.

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In fact, I won't be surprised if these ‘gentlemen’ get an MLA or an MP seat in the next elections.

Soon after the release of the convicts, Bilkis Bano released a statement that said- “The trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again when I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and life and took my three-year-old daughter away from me have walked free.”

It's time the government was made accountable and thoroughly grilled this time. Opposition parties must come to a consensus on this.

There cannot be a debate on a matter as grave and as macabre as this. Period.

Justice UD Salvi has been quoted as saying “There isn’t any clarity if these men have expressed such remorse or repentance in the present case. Have they expressed that they feel sorry and have realised their guilt?”

Brinda Karat has been quoted as saying - “The Gujarat government’s order is shocking, shameful and condemnable. Of what value are the prime minister’s statements for women’s dignity from the ramparts of the Red Fort when his own party-led government shows such criminal partisanship towards rapists and murderers? It is sheer hypocrisy. The order must be immediately rescinded.”

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The Gujarat government released the 11 convicts on the basis of the 1992 remission policy and not the policy adopted in 2014 which is in effect today.
The 2014 policy clearly mentions that rape and murder convicts cannot be released by the state government.

In this case, the 1992 policy is liberal towards the convicts.

It is believed that the Supreme Court was faced with the question of using the remission policy in place at the time of the remission (2014 policy). Subsequently, the apex court decided to use the policy that was applied during the time of conviction.

ALSO READ | Every rape convict will now apply for remission: Bilkis Bano's lawyer on release of rapists

Interestingly, section 435 of the CrPC states that the state government has to act after consultation with the central government in certain cases pertaining to the state’s remission powers.

Just wondering whether this topic is debatable on prime-time news. And who are the anchors trying to convince that rape and murder do a society good just because the victims happen to be Muslims.

Accumulated reactions on some right-wing threads - “It's routine for people with good behaviour in jail to have their sentences remitted; why is this even being discussed? This is being done to bring dishonour to the country and to the present government.”

“As if rapes and murders didn’t happen when Congress was in power.
How much will these 11 men suffer? Don't they deserve justice and deserve to be reunited with their families?”

In the words of Coretta Scott King - Freedom and justice cannot be parcelled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.

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