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Kolkata activists slam release of Bilkis Bano convicts

‘Rapists are free but best minds are in jail’

Debraj Mitra | Published 24.08.22, 06:37 AM
The protest at Moulali on Tuesday.

The protest at Moulali on Tuesday.

Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

While rapists and murderers are free, some of India’s best minds are rotting in jail without trial.

Freedom had acquired a new meaning in the 75th year of India’s Independence, speakers said at a demonstration in central Kolkata against the release of 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano and murdering her three-year-old daughter and her family members in Gujarat in 2002.

“In his address from the Red Fort on Independence Day, Narendra Modi castigated the culture that humiliated and demeaned women. The same evening, I got the news of the release of the convicts (in the Bilkis Bano case). In principle, we are all for the release of prisoners based on some conditions. But not those who have committed crimes against humanity,” said Mahasweta Samajdar, the editor of a travel magazine, a rights activist and one of the speakers.

A pregnant Bilkis was gang-raped during the 2002 Gujarat riots and seven members of her family were killed. The release of the 11 men was executed under the Gujarat government’s 1992 remission policy. After their release, the convicts were felicitated by Hindutva groups.

Tuesday’s protest meet, held on a slice of the ever-busy AJC Bose Road opposite Moulali Yuva Kendra, was organised by a string of women’s organisations. The majority of the speakers and people in the audience were women, from different age groups.

Some of the participants sat on the road and listened to the speakers. Banners were strung between lamp posts and the protesters carried placards and posters. They shouted slogans against “naked Hindutva aggression” and the “Brahminical supremacist mindset” of the ruling regime.

“The irony is not lost on us. While people convicted of the most heinous crimes are walking free, people like Umar Khalid and Teesta Setalvad are in jail. Some of the best minds in the country are rotting in jail without trial in the Bhima-Koregaon case. We have already lost Father Stan Swamy,” said Samajdar, part of a platform called Bengal Against Fascist RSS-BJP, which had led the No Vote to BJP campaign in the run-up to the West Bengal elections. 

Activists at Moulali on Tueday.

Activists at Moulali on Tueday.

Nisha Biswas, a veteran rights activist, said Bilkis did not want capital punishment for her tormentors.

“She did not want it back then. She does not want it even today. But she wants justice. The release of the convicts makes a mockery of justice and brings back the memories of 2002 for her. Her struggle has never stopped. She has faced one obstacle after another. Her FIR was not taken initially. The case had to be moved out of Gujarat to Maharashtra. She has been subjected to intimidation. But she did not give up,” said Biswas, who represented an organisation called Feminists in Resistance.

Biswas, and several other speakers, cited the “frequent paroles” granted to the 11 convicts before the remission. “They got paroles lasting months. This shows the mindset of the government and Hindutva groups. The same mindset led to the felicitation of the convicts after their release,” said Biswas.

Days after the release of the convict, a video clip emerged showing a BJP MLA — C.K. Raulji, who represented Godhra and was a member of the review panel that granted the remission — purportedly seeking to defend the convicts by saying “they are Brahmins. Anyway, the sanskar of Brahmins is very good.”

Mitali Biswas, a documentary filmmaker who represented the All India Progressive Women’s Association at Tuesday’s demonstration, linked the release of the convicts to the upcoming Gujarat elections.

“The ruling regime has to polarise voters. They will keep doing their bid to invigorate majoritarian sentiments to win votes,” said Biswas.

Last updated on 24.08.22, 06:37 AM
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