Saturday, May 6, 2017

Modi Wants to Give Muslim Women Their Rights. So Why Did He Abandon Bilkis in Her Hour of Need? BY SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

In a speech last month, Narendra Modi said he wants Muslim women to get the rights promised to them by the constitution. Bilkis Bano is a reminder that he didn’t always want that. Just when the prime minister thought the stain of 2002 was well and truly behind him, the Bombay high court has upheld the conviction of 11 persons for the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and mass murder of 14 Muslims in Limkheda and also convicted the policemen and doctors who attempted to cover up the crime – one of the most heinous to take place during the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat that year.

For the record, Bilkis’s charges were investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, not the Gujarat police, and the trial of the accused was held in Mumbai because the Supreme Court decided a fair trial was not possible in Gujarat. So what does this have to do with Modi, the BJP is likely to ask, apart from the fact that he happened to be chief minister at the time. After all, the allegation that Modi orchestrated the anti-Muslim violence was probed by a Special Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court but no evidence of his complicity emerged. The SIT’s controversial findings are being appealed by Zakia Jafri but as matters stand, Modi still has the “clean chit” the SIT gave him in 2013. Only the Gujarat high court, or the Supreme Court, can take that away from him. The BJP would be right to note all this, but it would also be wrong.
Modi is not the first Indian leader to face allegations of complicity in mass murder. In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, as prime minister and home minister of India, respectively, had direct control over the Delhi police but did nothing to protect the lives of thousands of Sikhs who were killed in the national capital following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The Delhi and Gujarat pogroms had a lot in common: inflammatory statements by leaders, including those at the very top; the political mobilisation of goons; the refusal of the police to protect minority communities under attack; the rewarding of politicians involved in the killings – people like H.K.L Bhagat and Maya Kodnani – with plum cabinet berths.

There may be no evidence of direct criminal liability in the execution of the violence but Modi confirmed his own guilt many times over by running a government that did everything in its power to ensure the guilty got away and the victims were denied justice. This is not the way a leader who has nothing to hide would behave. And Exhibit Number One is Bilkis Bano.

Long quest for justice: Bilkis and her family were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002, as they fled their home in the wake of the mass violence against Muslims that erupted across Gujarat following the Godhra train incident in which 57 Hindu passengers were killed on February 27.  She was five months pregnant at the time, yet was subjected to gang-rape, as were other women with her. Her three-year old child was murdered along with 13 other family members. When Bilkis managed to reach a police station, the police refused to include the names of the attackers in the FIR. One year later, in March 2003, a local court in Limkheda directed that her complaint be closed due to “inconsistencies”.

At this point, Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission, which in turn moved the Supreme Court. The minute the Supreme Court got involved, the Gujarat police swung into action – not to conduct a proper investigation or go after the accused men but to harass and intimidate Bilkis and her family. So much so that on September 25, 2003, the Supreme Court was constrained to direct the Gujarat police to keep away from the victim. Eventually, in December 2003, a three-judge bench of the apex court, in a major vote of no-confidence in the Gujarat government and police, asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the case.

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