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India: Bilkis Bano’s rapists are freed, so why the silence?

The silence is stark in a society whose fabric has been ripped inch by disturbing inch in the past few years to increasingly expose it as vacant. Ordinarily, even the most hard hearted would hang their heads in shame but where it matters, there is just a sliver of a murmur. And then, business as usual as though what they don’t say they don’t see.

But they saw, when in 2002 a five months pregnant Bilkis Bano was gang-raped by 11 men — her neighbours. They also saw when Bilkis’s own mother and sisters were gang-raped in front of her. Then her final defeat, her three- year- old daughter’s head was killed. They saw this too.

The men thought along with seven dead bodies they had left another lifeless but Bilkis survived, being alive though is different. Yet we are quiet.

As the country was celebrating 75 years of its independence, from the ramparts of the Red Fort the Prime Minister urged the nation to take a pledge to respect and support ‘nari shakti.’

At the same time these eleven men- convicted rapists and murderers were allowed to walk free by the Gujarat government.

Like some Roman gladiators returned victorious, the men were garlanded and sweets were stuffed in their mouth. Defending the indefensible is now an ideological divide, the good and the bad that we are taught as a primary life lesson has been buried somewhere deep, not unlike our conscience.

These are men who killed a child so young, so brutally, one who was perhaps still peaking wondrously at a the world from behind her mother’s shelter or sitting in her lap as she was when she plucked away by these men. She is dead and they are free. How is this justice for justice must also be seen to be done.

The messaging is not complex. At every turn minorities are reminded, some are more equal than others and it is not them.

There is also election season in the mix which is why barring the Congress most other parties have chosen to look the other way.

“The trauma of the past 20 years washed over me again when I heard that the 11 convicted men who devastated my family and life and took my three-year-old daughter away from me have walked free … Today, I can say only this, how can justice for any woman end like this?”

Bilkis Bano put faith in a system even when these men were allowed parole for lame reasons and we are still silent.

BILKIS
The convicts in Bilkis Bano case being offered sweets after their release
Image Credit:

Especially the women. What stops leaders in positions of power to speak up, we recently welcomed a woman president with much fanfare. Are they not moved at her plight? How much more does Bilkis have to lose for them to raise a voice?

These same leaders are more vocal over a bar in Goa than when rapists and murderers walk out through the back door under questionable legality.

The men were granted freedom through the outdated 1992 remission policy, the 2014 policy outrightly disallows remission for rapists and murderers.

Women not standing for each other is perhaps the biggest travesty. Sisters, wives and daughters are universal, humanity surely has some last dregs left or have we become so weak?

In a country where rape is underreported, where a victim is haunted more by the process than the crime and where families choosing silence over a snickering constable at the local police thana are not cowards, this move ‘has set a very bad precedent’ says Justice U.D. Salvi, the former Bombay High Court judge who had convicted the eleven men.

‘If you don’t consider the theory of retribution, apply the theory of reformation. Has there been reformation? Have they felt remorse? I don’t think so.’

‘If you don’t consider the theory of retribution, apply the theory of reformation. Has there been reformation? Have they felt remorse? I don’t think so.’

– Justice U.D. Salvi

10 years ago a nation was shaken out of its hubris when a 23- year-old medical student was gang-raped on a moving bus in Delhi.

There was outrage, candle marches and street protests with a promise that in one of the most unsafe countries for women in the world, enough was enough. The country came together to collectively call for the rapists to be hanged.

This time the streets are crowded yet empty and outrage is limited to the usual suspects. How quickly has that promise made after Nirbhaya’s death been forgotten or was it always conditional, seen through religious blinkers that make one woman more precious than the other? The candle it seems burnt out long ago.

In 2015 a documentary on Nirbhaya was banned after the then Home Minister said he was ‘upset seeing the film,’ a ruling politician, a woman was worried how it would portray India globally and the Delhi police felt it would create fear in a city.

If a documentary bothered us, imagine Bilkis’s plight, living in shadows for twenty years only to be told she has no place to hide.

Our constitution promises justice to all and Bilkis has been betrayed. Again. Those who speak up, need to make their voice heard even louder to shatter the wall of silence. Is Bilkis Bano not India’s daughter?

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