Why are TV channels, so vocal about Nirbhaya case, quiet about release of Bilkis Bano case convicts?

The hypocrisy about respect and support for women, stemming from none other than nation’s PM, failed to stir the conscience of prominent TV anchors of major channels

Bilkis Bano (File photo)
Bilkis Bano (File photo)
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NH Web Desk

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a 'change in the mentality' towards women and stressed on the need to extend support to 'Nari Shakti'.

However, that very day, Gujarat government released 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano and murdering her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots, apparently in contravention of a stringent remission policy for prisoners announced by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on June 10, 2022.

There has been no collective outrage against the release of the 11 lifers. There have been a few protests by women’s organisations against the Gujarat government’s decision. Activists from All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan (PMS) and a few other women’s organisation protested the remission of life sentences at Jantar Mantar on Thursday, August 18.

BEBAAK COLLECTIVE condemned the application of the remission policy by the Gujarat government to cease justice being served against the convicts of Bilkis Bano's gangrape. “We stand by the brave survivor and demand that the judiciary and the government recognise and account for the atrocities committed by the rioting Hindu supremacists in Gujarat on the Muslim community in 2002,” read their statement.

The hypocrisy stemming from none other than the nation’s PM failed to stir the conscience of prominent TV anchors of the major channels either.

Neither did Navika Kumar of Times Now, Marya Shakil of CNN News 18, Rubika Liyaquat of ABP News nor Rubika Liyaquat of ABP New or Sweta Singh and Anjana Om Kashyap of Aaj Tak raise their voices for Bilkis Bano. The issue has almost disappeared from TV channels. They were instead discussing various shades of Bihar and Rajasthan politics; Home Ministry’s stand on Rohingya refugees, Savarkar and ‘Hindu Phobia’.

This is in contrast to the media coverage of the December 2012 gang rape case, which came to be known as the Nirbhaya case. The coverage of the heinous crime took over the national psyche for months. The manner in which it was reported led to a lasting impression about sexual assault cases.

Almost all the national dailies did have the Bilkis Bano issue on the front page. Times of India had an editorial questioning the release of these rapists, which stated that the review of the release of the 11 convicted rapists by the Supreme Court “would be ideal is not in the slightest doubt”. It gave details of how the Gujarat Government had enough grounds to reject applying remission policy for these men.

It stated that in the Laxman Naskar vs Union of India case, the court had ruled that the State must determine “whether the offence is an individual act of crime without affecting the society at large” before granting remission.

The Naskar judgment and the MHA guidelines should have provided more than enough ground for the Gujarat government to keep the 11 lifers in jail.

The Hindu, in an editorial headlined ‘Remission without reform’, observed: “It defies logic that those convicted for direct involvement in the rape of three women, the murder of a three-year-old and six others can be considered candidates for premature release under any remission policy.”

In an editorial, The Indian Express observed that the remission in this case that lies at the heart of 2002 Gujarat riots portends a ‘disquieting backsliding’. “It is a grave setback for the tortuous legal battle to secure convictions in the horrific crimes of 2002 in the face of formidable obstacles and powerful odds”, it added.

Human rights activists have unanimously criticised the move to release the 11 convicted rapists. Human rights lawyer Shamshad Pathan pointed out that this was a case of heinous rape and murder and sought to know why only convicts in a riots case were released. There are so many prisoners who have completed their sentences who have not been released, he said.

All India Working Women Forum of All India Trade Union Congress pointed out in a press release that these 11 convicts, by any yardstick, do not deserve consideration for early release. It has strongly urged the Union Government to intervene to withdraw the release of these convicts.

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