Dr Veda Pratap Vaidik
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech this year explicitly expressed concern on the plight of women and pledged full support to ‘Nari Shakti’. Modi emphasized in his speech “A distortion has crept in our conduct and we at times insult women” and urged the citizens to take “a pledge to get rid of this from our behaviour and values.” I am unable to recollect any former prime minister making such an emotional address.
But, the incident that happened the very next day in his home state Gujarat he has taken the sheen out of the Prime Minister’s public pledged to promote ‘Nari Shakti’. Eleven convicts serving life sentences in the infamous Bilkis Bano gangrape case were freed from the Godhra sub-jail after approving remission of sentence.
In the 2002 horrendous Gujarat riots hundreds of innocent people were killed and Bilkis Bano, a young pregnant, Muslim woman was gang rapped by about a dozen hoodlums and her three-year-old daughter was butchered. Another 13 Muslims of the same village were also murdered by the rioters. In 2008, 11 of the criminals booked for the dastardly crime were sentenced to life imprisonment by a CBI court. The killings in general and the Bilkis Bano rape in particular brought intolerable shame to our nation as a whole.
The judges who tried the cases were judicious in their verdict, but mercy petitions were filed in the Apex court on behalf of these ruthless killers. After hearing the mercy plea, the Supreme Court said that the Gujarat government has the right to consider this petition. As expected the BJP government in Gujarat ordered the release of all the killers who were serving incarceration.
The government of the Prime Minister’s home state had no hesitation, to contradict what he pledged during his Independence Day speech.
What should we infer from the Gujarat state Government’s action to set free a host of dreaded killers and rapists serving life imprisonment? Is this act of releasing the rapists any mark of respect to women? Is this the meaning of the sacred Sanskrit verse ‘Yatra naryastu pujyante, ramante tatra devatah’? Is this how women are worshipped? Are we enhancing the glory of Hindutva by raping a woman? In my thoughts life imprisonment was too little a punishment for these beastly killers.
The cronies of the killer have given a clean chit to those released from jail and declared them innocent. Surprisingly these killers were felicitated in public by their “fans”.
The Gujarat government released the convicts citing the provision of a 1992 rule. However the state government has violated its own revised policy of 2014 that bars out-of-turn release of prisoners convicted for rape and murder. As per the 2014 policy these convicts were ineligible for remission. The Supreme Court in 2019 had awarded Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Bilkis Bano
It’s amazing; the Gujarat state government did not even seek the opinion of the Central Government in such a sensitive matter. We cannot fully blame those who try to derive certain links between the hasty release of the rapists and killers and the upcoming elections. We should realize that any myopic decision for electoral gains can hamper the national interest.
*Dr. Vaidik is a widely travelled scholar-journalist. He has visited more than 80 countries on diplomatic and educational missions. Dr. Vaidik has won more than a dozen National and International awards for academic and journalistic excellence. He has been a member of several Advisory Committees of Government of India.