Azadi implies freedom from injustice, inequality too, but such concepts are alien to RSS-BJP
Early release of Bilkis Bano’s rapists in contravention of guidelines makes it clear that people close to RSS-BJP regime are not subject to basic doctrines of rule of law and equality before law
On the 75th year of Independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was, as usual, eloquent in his rhetoric. He minced no words to impress upon the people of India by preaching his government’s commitment to the men and women of the country. Though he addressed the ‘countrymen’ at definite intervals, women were not completely forgotten. A small portion of his speech was specially devoted to ‘Nari Shakti’, where verbal adorations were ornamentally reserved for women empowerment.
At the same time, in Gujarat, the BJP government was unmasking a different face of their concern for women’s rights. Eleven convicts of the Bilkis Bano rape case were set free from the Godhra sub-jail the same day.
‘Nari Shakti’ of Modi brand is evidently blind to the plight of the women if they are Muslims or poor.
The country cannot forget the incident that happened in Godhra on the fateful days of 2002, following the communal riots that engulfed Gujarat. Atrocities were unleashed against the hapless Muslim women in various parts of the state. In the Bilkis Bano case, apart from the heinous crime of rape, seven members of her family were killed including a three-year old child.
Following investigation and trial, the accused were convicted for life imprisonment. Because of the particular nature of the case, the investigation as well as the judicial process was long and complicated, and the hearing was shifted from Gujarat to Maharashtra.
Even though human right activists and India's secular conscience were always on the vigil, it took six years for the judiciary to complete the trial. From 2008 onwards, when they were put behind bars, right-wing forces and the Gujarat government were anxious about their freedom and well-being.
Now, after their ‘long wait’, the rape convicts have walked to the world of freedom. Fifteen years after their conviction and while serving the minimum sentence legally possible, the script for the release of the rape convicts was carefully drafted under the guidance of the bigwigs in the right-wing forces.
The trajectory of the rape case, from the date of its occurrence, throws light to this connection. An application was filed for the remission of their punishment in the Supreme Court in May this year. The Supreme Court ordered the Gujarat Government to look into the matter, which subsequently formed a committee, which gave a unanimous decision to release the convicts as per their behaviour during the sentence and ‘nature of the crime’!
The wheels of justice swiftly moved into action, releasing them through a ‘special remission policy’ as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’. The partisan spirit of the committee was manifest on the same day evening. A hero’s welcome was accorded to them in the VHP office.
In stark contrast to this, as per the India Justice Report 2020, 68 per cent of the prisoners inside the jails are under-trials and some of them have been jailed without a single charge-sheet being filed. The custodial death of tribal activist Stan Swamy who was arrested in the fabricated Bhima Koregoan case and was denied even a sipper to drink water on medical grounds, continues to haunt the nation.
The message RSS-BJP government wants to convey is crystal clear: Azadi in this country, under their rule, means people who are close to the rulers and their politics are special. The basic doctrines of rule of law and equality before law can be thrown into the dustbin for them.
The lives and rights of minorities, Dalits, women, and the poor are being blatantly violated. The government’s move to amend the criminal laws, in this background, signals new challenges before the oppressed. The committee entrusted with the task has only five members, all of whom are categorically selected from the upper caste.
In the present conditions of India, the new lawmakers cannot be expected to do justice to the under-privileged and voiceless.
‘Azadi’ is not a concept meant only for celebrations and rhetoric; it is a great promise of history before the people that their country will safeguard them from all kinds of suppression. It is a promise of freedom from hunger, poverty, social and sexual exploitation. That was the idea of free India which the freedom movement shared with the people of India. The present ruling dispensation is quite unaware of it, as they had no role in the freedom movement to shape the destiny of India.
The Bilkis Bano case reminds the men and women of India that they have miles to go to reach the goal of freedom and equality.
Views are personal
(The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP)