One India, Two Daughters Nirbhaya And Bilkis Bano; Two Different Treatments Because Religion Lies In Name…

On 15 August 2022, as India was celebrating 75 years of Independence, news came that the Gujarat government approved the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder case during the Muslim genocide in 2002. It shocked the nation, more than that disappointed the Indian Muslims because this was not something they expected from the Court of Justice.

Bilkis Bano, a gang rape victim, a survivor of the Gujarat 2002 massacre, and also the only witness to the most heinous crime fought a tiring battle to attain justice. Bilkis Yaqub Rasool finally took a sigh of relief when in May 2017, the Bombay High Court sentenced life imprisonment to 11 of her criminals. The High Court also set an example by convicting five policemen and two doctors who tried to temper the evidence. Bilkis did not know that her peace is for a shorter time.

According to The Wire, following their imprisonment, one of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah approached the Apex Court of India striving for premature release. The Supreme Court of India directed the Gujarat government to decide on the matter of remission. The government of Gujarat told the top Court that the trial concluded in Maharashtra and hence it would be the appropriate authority to deal with the issue. However, the Supreme Court reiterated that the crime happened in Gujarat and accordingly its remission policy would be valid. On Monday, 15 August 2022, the Gujarat government approved the release of all 11 convicts under its remission policy. The very same day, while delivering an Independence day speech from Red Fort, the Prime Minister of India called the citizens to end misogyny.

Just like Alimuddin Ansari’s (mob lynching victim) murderers, Bilkis’s criminals also received a warm welcome after their release. The videos of the convicts went viral post-release where they were garlanded and offered sweets by Hindu society.

Govind Shankarbhai Patel, a BJP delegate of Morva (Panchmahal district) garlanded the rapists of Bilkis Bano. Source: Muslim Mirror

BJP MLA from Godhra, backed the remission of convicts saying that they are Brahmins. The Men of good Sanskar (impression).

On 17 August 2022, Advocate Shobha released a statement on behalf of Bilkis Yaqub Rasool. The statement demonstrates her trauma, “I am still numb. How can justice for any woman end like this?” Bilkis questions in her statement. She further adds, “I trusted the system. I was learning to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice. My sorrow and my wavering faith are not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

Bilkis Yaqub Rasool’s full statement released by Advocate Shobha.

Bilkis Bano also raised concerns about her safety and requested the Gujarat government to undo its decision. She mentions, “No one enquired about my safety and well-being, before taking such a big and unjust decision. I appeal to the Gujarat government to undo this harm. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace. Please ensure that my family and I are kept safe.”

Bilkis Bano fled with her family to save their lives following the anti-Muslim violence that was carried out after the Godhra train burning incident in February 2002. 19-year-old pregnant Bilkis ran with her 3-year-old daughter, Saleha in her arms. 20-30 people waving swords stopped their truck. One of the men snatched Bilkis’s little Saleha and smashed her head on the ground, killing her daughter instantly. Bilkis was gang-raped by men from her village. Even though she was pregnant, all her mercy pleas were disregarded. 14 members of her family were butchered by the Hindutva mob. The men who raped Bilkis and killed her family, left her in an unconscious state considering that she is dead. When Bilkis came to her senses, she was surrounded by the carcasses of her family members. She was naked, so covered her body with a petticoat and spent the night on a hill. The next day, an Adivasi woman near a hand pump gave her some clothes. A police officer took Bilkis to Limkheda Police Station where Somabhai Gori, a Head Constable refused to file her complaint. She was sent to a relief camp where Bilkis reunited with her husband, Yakub Rasool. The couple fought a lengthy battle for justice only to realize that it was a mirage in the end (The Wire).

In June 2022, the Supreme Court dismissed Zakia Jafri’s petition to file a case against Narendra Modi for his alleged participation in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, in 2002. The next day, social activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested by Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). Teesta’s NGO played a significant part in bringing justice to the Gujarat violence victims in 2002. She, along with two former Gujarat police officers is accused of misleading SIT (The Wire)

On 16 December 2012, While returning home with her friend Awindra, Nirbhaya was gang raped by 6 men on a moving bus in Delhi. As she tried to withstand one of the rapists inserted a rod into her vagina that ripped her intestine apart injuring her severely. There was national outrage and within five days of the incident, all 6 accused were arrested. On 29 December 2012, Nirbhaya succumbed to her injuries. The murder charges were added in the FIR against the accused. In March 2014, less than two years of the incident the Delhi High Court confirmed the death penalty for the convicts. Their mercy petitions were declined from all levels. Eventually, on 20 March 2020, all four convicts were hanged to death (The Wire)

It took 7 years for Nirbhaya to attain justice, and it took 15 years for Bilkis Bano to get justice in the form of illusion. Her struggle does not end. Both are the daughters of the nation, and the victim of a heinous crime- the rarest of rare cases. Nirbhaya got justice posthumously and the faith of Bilkis Bano is being mocked by the Justice system. The role of the Supreme Court in both of the cases is critical. It is national hypocrisy and an international shame when Prime Minister speaks so much about liberating and empowering Muslim women, and contrarily, their government releases rape convicts. They are not alleged rapists. The released men were convicted rapists. Every Indian should hang their head in shame as the guilty walk out of jail on remission policy. In 2004, the Supreme Court called the Modi government ‘Modern Day Neroes’ who looked the other way when innocent women and children were burning but what do we call a society that celebrates the rapists because the victim has an Urdu name?