Bilkis Bano is not just a woman wronged but a symbol of resistance against marauding majoritarian aggression, speakers said at a protest meeting against the release of her rapists and murderers of her family members from jail on remission.
“You don’t have to be Muslim to support her. You need to be a human being.... Bilkis Bano is not only a woman who was gang-raped. She is the face of resistance,” said Mansarul Haque, a speaker at the protest at Ranu Chhaya Mancha.
Every speaker said Bilkis’s 20-year-old fight inspired others, members of minority communities subjected to abuse and discrimination and those from the majority community who believe in the idea of a secular and democratic India.
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.
The release of the convicts and the welcome they were accorded triggered protests across the country.
The decision on remission has been challenged in the Supreme Court, which on Thursday issued notices to Gujarat and the Centre. Satabdi Das, a rights activist, talked of “institutional gas-lighting, at the behest of the State,” in the case.
Gas-lighting means psychological manipulation by an abuser to plant doubts in the minds of the victims and others about the abuse itself.
The meeting was called by Bengal Against Fascist RSS-BJP. Before the state elections last year, the forum launched the “No Vote to BJP” campaign.
The speakers on Tuesday talked about a similar movement to ensure the convicts are sent back to jail.
“The elixir of freedom(amrit of azaadi) has been vitiated by the poison of polarisation,” said rights activist Sujato Bhadra, who listed several factors that made the remission bad in law.
“Bilkis, for her tormentors, was a symbol. Like hijab and namaz. This is a typical RSS project, to set up an imaginary adversary. They are experts in poisoning the mind sof people,” he said.