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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024
No drama can mask this irony and shame

'Bilkis convicts' remission goes against Modi's Nari Shakti pitch'

While remission is legal, one cannot but question the wisdom of the decision of the Gujarat govt in #BilkisBano, tweeted BJP Rajya Sabha member Mahesh Jethmalani

Pheroze L. Vincent New Delhi Published 21.08.22, 02:26 AM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation from the Red Fort on the 75th anniversary of Independence on Monday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the nation from the Red Fort on the 75th anniversary of Independence on Monday PTI picture

BJP Rajya Sabha member Mahesh Jethmalani has said the remission of the Bilkis Bano convicts’ sentences went against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch for women’s empowerment in his Independence Day speech.

Jethmalani, a senior Supreme Court advocate by profession, tweeted earlier in the week: “While remission is legal, one cannot but question the wisdom of the decision of the Gujarat govt in #BilkisBano. Also it undermined the PM’s powerful Nari Shakti resolve in his I Day speech…. Nari Shakti entails a Bill asap by UOI (Union of India) excluding gang rape from remission.”

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In his address from the Red Fort on Independence Day, the day 11 men convicted of murder and gang rape in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case were released from jail in Gujarat, Modi had castigated the “culture” that “humiliates and demeans women”.

“It hurts me to say that we have witnessed a perversion in our day-to-day speaking, behaviour. We have been casually using language and words that are insulting to women,” he had said.

“Can we not pledge to get rid of everything in our behaviour, culture and everyday life that humiliates and demeans women? Women’s pride is going to be a huge asset in fulfilling the dreams of the nation. I see this power and therefore I am insistent on it.”

Footage shows sweets being offered to some of the 11 gang rape and murder convicts in the Bilkis Bano case outside the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release

Footage shows sweets being offered to some of the 11 gang rape and murder convicts in the Bilkis Bano case outside the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release PTI picture

Modi highlighted the “power of nari shakti” in the courts of law, rural local governance, police forces, on the “playground or the battlefield” and the field of science.

Modi was Gujarat chief minister in 2002 when communal riots officially claimed 1,044 lives in the state. Neither he nor Union home minister Amit Shah, also from Gujarat, has commented in public till Saturday evening on the remission of the sentences.

The felicitation the released convicts received from Sangh parivar affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad has invited the question whether the silence in the corridors of power is one of approval or embarrassment.

If Jethmalani has flagged the contradiction between the convicts’ release and Modi’s paean to “nari shakti”, others have highlighted the irony of the remission at a time riot whistleblowers Teesta Setalvad and former Gujarat director-general of police R.B. Sreekumar are behind bars.

Setalvad had helped several riot victims seek justice, including one who accused Modi and his officials of allowing the violence, while Sreekumar had alleged the state’s complicity in the riots. They have been in jail for nearly two months, accused of conspiring to falsify evidence (against the Modi government).

Teesta Setalvad, the rights defender who pursued some of the Gujarat riot cases with vigour has been in custody since June 25, and  has already spent 57 days behind bars

Teesta Setalvad, the rights defender who pursued some of the Gujarat riot cases with vigour has been in custody since June 25, and has already spent 57 days behind bars PTI picture

Globally renowned academics have urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Setalvad and other whistleblowers, the appeal coming ahead of her bail hearing on Monday.

Sociologist and public intellectual Shiv Visvanathan told The Telegraph on Saturday: “The two stories, while contiguous, are different. The first is a rape case and reveals its obscenity by pretending to be an act of spring cleaning. The more guilty (people) you release, the more your productivity coefficient.

“The second case was more devious. It sanitises the perpetrator and makes the human right activist guilty. Human rights are a nuisance in an authoritarian society…. It has nothing to do with women. It is a question of the way you look at humanity. Minorities are not humanity for this regime.”

Setalvad, who had won the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award in 2003 in recognition of her battle for justice on behalf of the Gujarat victims, had in her acceptance speech outlined how the “language of fascism” had “deeply disfigured Indian public life”.

“Today, a more blatant use of hate speech and writing against sections of Indians, on grounds of religious affiliation, has become the norm that precedes and creates the climate for mass pogroms. Such discourse goes unchallenged by authorities though we remain a political democracy wedded to the rule of law,” she had said.

“The infamous Nuremberg laws that forbade marriage between sections of one people have not been forcibly enacted yet but Geetabehn, a Hindu, happily married to Salim, a Muslim, in Gujarat until April 4 last year (2002) was stripped and mutilated in public before being butchered alive on the streets of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s leading commercial centre.

“Victims of the Gujarat carnage, or genocide as we have called it, face exclusion in jobs and have been denied dignified return to their agricultural land. Much less have they got justice.

“The language of fascism and its glorification of violence and extermination have deeply disfigured Indian public life. We struggle today against it reaching a crescendo. In that struggle we try among other things to, in Martin Luther King Junior’s words, to break the silence of the good people who we believe are still numerically stronger than the wicked people who execute evil deeds.”

Modi had said in his Independence Day speech: “You must have seen the power of nari shakti in courts (among women) who work in the field of law. Look at the public representatives in rural areas. Our nari shakti is devotedly engaged in solving the problems of our villages. Look at the field of knowledge or science, the nari shakti of our country is visible right at the top.

“Even in the police force, our nari shakti is taking the responsibility of protecting the people. In every walk of life, whether it is the playground or the battlefield, the nari shakti of India is coming forward with a new strength and a new belief.

“I can see the manifold contribution of nari shakti — my mothers, sisters and daughters — in the next 25 years compared to the contribution in the last 75 years of India’s journey…. The more we pay attention to this aspect, the more opportunities and facilities we provide to our daughters, they will return us much more than that.”

Plea to President

Three Gujarat Congress MLAs have written to President Droupadi Murmu seeking a directive to the Union home ministry and the Gujarat government to withdraw the “shameful decision” to release the Bilkis Bano convicts, PTI reported.

In their joint letter, MLAs Gyasuddin Shaikh, Imran Khedawala and Javed Pirzada have underlined that the convicts were released “even though the central government has a clear guideline that rape convicts serving life imprisonment should not be released under the policy of pardon”.

“This is a disappointing decision for those struggling to get justice,” the letter says. “It is necessary to stop this move of the Gujarat government before it becomes a dangerous tradition.”

The letter too refers to Modi’s speech, saying the Gujarat government’s decision is more shocking, given the Prime Minister’s talk about women’s honour.

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