By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
25 August 2022
The Release of Convicts Is Deeply Troubling
1. Those who brutalized Bilkis Bano were convicted in 2008.
2. All eleven convicts were granted remission by the Gujarat government recently
3. This is a political decision which has the sanction from larger society
4. Muslims have felt let down by the decision
5. Is it wise to alienate such a large minority?
The Supreme Court will hear pleas challenging the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. (AFP photo)
Bilkis Bano, the victim of a systematic violence unleashed on the bodies of Muslims, has become the symbol of how a politics of hate can dehumanize those who practice it. Fourteen members of her family were brutally massacred by a Hindu mob, including her three-year-old son. She herself was brutally gang-raped and left to die. It is a testimony to her indominable courage that she identified her perpetrators, most of whom were known to her. The courts eventually convicted eleven men for committing this heinous crime in 2008. This Independence-day, our 75th, the state decided to grant remission to all the eleven convicts. It is well within the power of Gujarat government to grant such remissions, which is done for various reasons. But it is rather unknown that the provision shall be used to free convicts who have been accused of horrendous and heinous crimes. This must be perhaps the first case in the history of independent India wherein those in authority of such remission completely disregarded the nature of crime committed by the accused.
But then, some members of the committee which recommended the remission were members of the ruling establishment. So, the matter is not simply that remission was granted but more importantly that it must have been arrived at after due deliberation. The release of the convicts was primarily a political act. One shudders to think what was the political symbolism behind releasing them on Independence Day? Is the state government trying to say that Hindus can get away with anything and that it is their ‘freedom’ to kill and maim Muslims? And what is the message for Bilkis and through her to the Muslim community? Is the state trying to tell us that Muslims should give up all hopes of equality before law from this government? Many Muslims feel that freeing the convicts is one more reminder that they no longer have full membership of the republic; that their citizenship has become hyphenated. The only saving grace perhaps is that the apex court is now willing to hear a petition challenging the grounds on which remission was granted to the convicts.
As many commentators have pointed out, one reason for freeing the convicts might be the hope that it will help the party in the upcoming state elections. If true, then this is deeply troubling to say the least. That one can subvert the process of law simply to win elections cannot be justified on any ground. If this is how elections are going to be won in India, then we should perhaps say goodbye to even the faintest idea of ensuring justice in this country. What is even worse is that political moves have sanctions from within the larger society. The scenes of these convicts being garlanded after their release by the public can only mean that society approves of such a measure. This sentiment might win them elections, but at the cost of losing a sense of India which prided itself on being inclusive, just and plural. Such a sentiment of approving rape and murder will ultimately end up dehumanizing the Hindu society. Should they be upholding a politics which robs them of their very soul? Should the BJP be practicing such politics which puts the Hindu community to shame? It is good to hear a Devendra Fadnavis criticizing the manner in which these convicts were received by society. But where are the other voices; the voices of those who think of the Hindu faith as ever flowing nectar of river, from which anyone can satiate oneself spiritually?
The statement released by Bilkis will haunt the republic for years to come. Many of the released men are known to her and therefore it is very natural that she will feel extremely threatened by them. Does the government have any plans for her security? But more importantly, we need to ask ourselves how as a society we have descended so low that today we are able to celebrate rapists and murderers. Some time ago, the ideologue of the nation assured us that the DNA of Hindus and Muslims is the same, thereby giving a call to bury our differences. Alas, that voice, when it is most needed today, is silent.
As I write this column, Raja Singh, the anti-Muslim troll has been arrested (and granted bail) by the Hyderabad police for abusing the prophet of Islam. The message is clear: we will not tolerate any abuse of the Islamic prophet as it is an extremely sensitive question for Muslims. But many Muslims might feel that there is perhaps another messaging: that of not recognizing the far more material question of life, liberty and dignity of Muslims as citizens of this country. And the case of Bilkis Bano has become the medium of such a message.
Muslims still have faith in the systems of the country. One shudders to think of the consequences when they will lose all trust in institutions. The ruling establishment should ask itself whether it is wise to alienate such a huge minority? But the larger question is not one of security. The larger question is how as a society we can stop our demonic descent into hatred and brutality.
A regular contributor to NewAgeIslam.com, Arshad Alam is a writer and researcher on Islam and Muslims in South Asia.
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