Justice for Bilkis

In 2002, a pregnant Bilkis Bano saw thirteen of her relatives murdered, her baby daughter killed, while she was gang raped by a communal mob in the Gujarat riots, a state-sponsored pogrom against the Muslim community.

Six years later, a special CBI court in Mumbai has sentenced eleven of the accused to life imprisonment. For once, justice has been delivered in a case of communal violence, and the struggle of a resolute and courageous woman has been upheld by the law. But the judgement is still a case of delayed and incomplete justice, and it raises more questions than it answers.

Not the 'Rarest of the rare case?'

Holding that this was not the "rarest of rare case" special CBI judge U.D. Salvi rejected the special public prosecutors plea for death sentences to three persons held guilty of raping Bilkis.

But if this case does not qualify as the "rarest of the rare", then what does?

When a pregnant woman, from a poor Muslim family, is raped by a mob and her entire family butchered, what labels shall we apply to an act of extreme brutality?

To say this is not to argue in favour of the death penalty, but to expose how different are the premises that underline the actions of the judicial system and the state when a member of the minority community is the victim, and when one of them is accused.

In the case of Afzal Guru, he was denied the lawyer of his choice, and the chance to tell his story in court. Although there was no direct evidence to indict him, the court applied the death penalty on the premise that it was necessary to satisfy the "collective conscience" of the nation. Now, it seems it may be fear of that very "collective conscience" that makes the CBI verdict hold back from terming mass rape and murder 'rarest of the rare'; or perhaps such mass murder is no longer rare in Modi's Gujarat.

Such verdicts never care to explain what constitutes the 'collective conscience' of this nation? And what does it take for this 'conscience' to be shaken? Why does the 'collective conscience' of the nation demand the blood of Afzal Guru, indicted without direct evidence of his guilt?

And why is it that the collective conscience of the nation is not shaken by the horrifying atrocities committed on Bilkis Bano and her family as well as the hundreds of other Muslims who died in the state-sponsored genocide that took place in Gujarat?

Does the Mob have 'individual' agendas?

In the Bilkis Bano judgement, Judge Salvi also observed that in a case of communal riots, "every individual has a separate agenda…Many join for looting property, some join to satisfy their lust and some join for the killing."

This statement begs questions about the nature of the violence which took place in Gujarat in 2002. This was no localized conflict between two communities, but a carefully orchestrated, diabolic targeting and massacring of the minority community in the state. The Judgement presumes that the acts of the accused were individually motivated and shies away from pointing a finger at the state. Even if we accept the logic of the judge's verdict, would our judicial and political system take on the challenge of indicting and punishing those masterminds who motivated all the 'individuals' who made up the mobs? Which court of law will finally unravel the face behind these masks?

The Many Masks of Narendra Modi

In Gujarat, the rot runs deep, into every level of the administrative machinery, the police and the criminal justice system. The Bilkis Bano case had to be shifted out of Gujarat because witnesses and victims were being intimidated and threatened. Public pressure and media attention forced the shifting of the case. But each time the state is complicit, will we shift such a case, and for how long? Doctors and policemen too, connived with the accused. The police tried to shield the criminals while filing the FIR, and the evidence was consciously tampered with, by severing the heads of victims after post-mortem, to prevent identification. All this reflect a consciously crafted fascist political culture where the state shields, justifies, aids and abets the culprits of communal violence and throws the entire weight of the state machinery behind them.

For the corporate heads who exalt the Modi mantra of development, for the Sangh bosses who raise the chorus of elevating him to prime-minister, Modi may be a hero. For the minority community of his state, for all democratic voices of Gujarat and the country, Modi is the face of evil, the mastermind behind the pogrom of 2002 and the violence inflicted upon innocent victims like Bilkis Bano and her family. The conscience of democratic and peace-loving citizens can be satisfied only if there is an end to witch-hunting and scapegoating, and those really guilty for terror and genocide are identified and punished.

Liberation Archive