The release of 11 convicts in the gang rape of a Muslim woman reflects poorly on a society that claims to revere goddesses.
India has always made the global community believe that it’s a nation that respects its women, but on the 75th anniversary of its independence on August 15, the right-wing Hindu-nationalist BJP government in Gujarat pardoned those serving life sentence for the rape of Bilkis Bano.
It all happened under the watch of then-chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi in 2002 following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, leaving more than 50 passengers dead.
Although one commission of inquiry found that it was an accident, Modi blamed the train fire on Islamic fundamentalists, thus instigating his party goons to go after Muslims all over the state.
It was during the anti-Muslim pogroms that Bano became a victim of gang rape that was used as a weapon to humiliate the minority community.
Following her struggle for justice, 11 people were convicted by a special court outside Gujarat in 2008.
Bano, who was pregnant at that time, lost 14 members of her family during the violence. The dead included her three-year-old daughter.
Though Modi was never charged, he was denied visa by the U.S. and few other governments because of the Gujarat bloodshed until he became prime minister in 2014. He currently rules the country with a majority in the parliament.
Notably, attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims and political dissidents have grown ever since he was elected as the leader of India.
The remission of the sentencing of 11 convicts who were given a heroic welcome speaks about the hypocrisy of the society and the nation.
It came close to the festival of Rakhi, when Hindu women tie a thread of bonding on the wrists of their brothers. It also preceded the birth anniversary of the Hindu god Lord Krishna, who saved the honour of Draupadi, who was being disrobed, according to a legend,
Hindus pray before many goddesses apart from Krishna, and the ultra-Hindu nationalist Modi is a self-proclaimed defender of women's empowerment.
Even more disturbing was the deafening silence of prominent female supporters of Modi who saw him as a saviour and were vocal against growing sexual violence under the previous government. There has been no protest in Greater Vancouver by Indian feminist groups in support of Bano either, which is really a matter of shame.
Whereas these groups have been very outspoken against sexual violence both within India and the diaspora in the past, they continue to ignore this case for reasons best known to them.
Setalvad case speaks volumes about Modi's India
The whole episode follows the recent arrest of Teesta Setalvad, a renowned journalist and human rights activist who has been spearheading campaign for justice to the victims of Gujarat massacre. She was held by the Gujarat police under trumped-up charges for pursuing the cases of state-sponsored violence after the Supreme Court had accused her of keeping “the pot boiling”.
The release of the gang rapists and the justification being given by BJP supporters cannot be delinked from the arrest of Setalvad. First, they threw someone who has been trying to make Modi accountable behind bars to silence the critics and then they let the criminals involved in the violence go free.
It also showcases the selective justice of Modified India, where a physically challenged scholar, former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, continues to be incarcerated in spite of his poor health for merely questioning the government's power.
Saibaba stood up for minorities and the marginalized whereas gang rapists are being shamelessly patronized by the government. The authorities showed no compassion to Saibaba by releasing him during the rise in COVID-19 cases or on account of his deteriorating health, whereas the released gang rapists were described as “people displaying good behaviour”.
Saibaba’s only crime was that he raised his voice against sexual violence perpetuated either against Adivasi (Indigenous) women or Muslim women in Kashmir by Indian forces deployed in the name of resorting peace in conflict zones.
Indian troops have been frequently accused of suppressing resistance in Adivasi communities fighting against appropriation of their mineral-rich traditional lands by the extraction industry. Similarly, the Indian armed forces have been pitted against the ongoing struggle for the right to self-determination in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, so-called feminists associated with the BJP conveniently ignore the crimes of the police and soldiers against minority women in these areas, and rather glorify them by tying Rakhis on their wrists.
That’s the reality of India where only the dignity of the upper caste and privileged Hindu women matter while others are treated as dispensable. If that’s what India has chosen to become, then it is no more a feminist nation.