The shame and horror of the release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case can only be trumped by the welcome they were accorded, said participants at a protest rally in the city.
Hundreds of women assembled in front of the now-shut Purna cinema in Kalighat in south Kolkata on Wednesday afternoon and walked to Ranu Chhaya Mancha near the Academy of Fine Arts.
They kept shouting slogans against the release of the convicts and vowed to keep fighting till they were sent back to jail.
“There is hunger, unemployment and strife all around us. Even amid that, the country was celebrating the 75th year of Independence when the horrific news came. But as if the release of the convicts was not enough, we saw the majestic reception for them, with garlands and sweets. If the release was shameful and horrific, the celebration was even worse,” said Kakali Bhattacherjee of Maitree, a Bengal-based network of organisations and individuals working for women’s rights.
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, on August 15, was executed under the Gujarat government’s 1992 remission policy.
After their release, the convicts were felicitated by Hindutva groups. Wednesday’s rally — the largest and most vocal among the slew of similar protests that the city has seen in the past few days — was organised by Maitree.
One of the highlights of the rally was the participation of many women — many of them Muslims — from North and South 24-Parganas districts.
Mariam Bibi, who came from Diamond Harbour, works to spread awareness against child marriages in her neighbourhood.
“Rape is not rare in India. But the case of Bilkis is different. Bilkis was targeted because of her religion. She is still being hounded,” Mariam told The Telegraph. Barely a few metres away walked Sumana Chakravarty, who works in a museum in Kolkata.
“The sequence of events is spine chilling. I shudder to think what Bilkis must be going through... The conviction of the men was like a glimmer of justice. That glimmer has now been taken away,” she said.
The participants in the rally demanded that the Supreme Court scrap the release of the convicts. Dozens of students from Bishop’s College were among the most boisterous at the rally.
One of them was Abhishek Yadala, who hails from Telangana. “Posts on social media are not going to change anything.
Shouting in the canteen is also not going to change anything. If you want to protest against injustice, you should hit the streets,” said Yadala, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in divinity.
The high court on Wednesday imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on the state transport department for its failure to file an affidavit on a petition by bus and minibus operators demanding an order to the department to revise fares following the rise in fuel prices.
The division bench headed by Chief Justice Prakash Srivastava on Wednesday asked the government to file the affidavit by next week.
Bus and minibus operators had said that even after repeated appeals, the state transport department did not take any step to revise fares.
The petition also seeks an order to the transport department to consider the demand for raising fares.