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Bilkis Bano Case: Why Muslims should be against Minority-ism

By M Wadood Sajid

One after the other, two judicial judgements have come from Mumbai and Delhi.

The Mumbai High Court has upheld life sentences to gang rape convicts in the infamous Bilkis Bano case.

And the Supreme Court has maintained death sentences awarded to the heartless beasts involved in the notorious Nirbhaya Gangrape case, committed in December 2012 in Delhi.

Conscientious individuals are now wondering why death sentences in Nirbhaya case and life imprisonment to the convicts of Bilkis Bano case.

Obviously this is a big issue and its importance cannot outrightly be ignored. However, there are legal intricacies involved in these two cases. Therefore, it is no use opining on the basis of superficial knowledge and simple emotions.

Muslim youths expressing unguarded views on social media need to review their actions and need to practice self-restraint.

What happened in Gujarat in 2002 will not go unrecorded in Indian history. Gujarat Massacre took place during the tenure of the then Chief Minister of the state, Mr. Narendra Modi. But the life-sentence in the most brutal gang rape case in Gujarat has been upheld when that very Narendra Modi is now the Prime Minister of the country. This is not appropriate to form a judgement on two similar cases without keeping this background in mind.

Bilkis Bano was ganged raped, when she was pregnant, and 14 members of her family were brutally killed by Narendra Modi’s foot soldiers in Gujarat Genocide 2002.

How difficult it had become in those days for Muslims in Gujarat to get justice may be guessed from the example of a Muslim Justice (Quadri) of Gujarat High Court, who had to flee from his house carrying his elderly mother on his shoulders. He had to take shelter in the house of the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court.  The security forces were seen helpless in providing security to him at his own residence. 

In this regard, comments made by various benches of Supreme Court will also remain part of our history and will keep testifying the sad and tragic stories of hapless people then. While ordering the transfer of Zaheerah Sheikh and Bilkis Bano cases out of Gujarat, the Supreme Court had observed, ‘it seems that to get justice in Gujarat has now become impossible.’ [Translated from Urdu. Not an original quote].  Commenting on Gujarat massacre, it had earlier observed that ‘[t]he modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected.’

Cautiously it can be said that the Gujarat High Court at that time found itself incapable of making sure that affected people got justice. The situation in those days in fact was so serious that the English daily the Indian Express (6 May 2017) had concluded its editorial with this sentence, ‘The convictions are an indictment of the then Gujarat government, which compromised on due process.’ 

Also note the fact that on the very day when, on 16 May 2014, the results of general elections declared Narendra Modi-led BJP as the biggest winner, 11 Muslims from Gujarat, who had been awarded death sentences for Akshardham attack case and upheld by the Gujarat High Court, were honourably exonerated by the Supreme Court.

After that no such judgement was delivered and commentators’ confidence got shaken. Thus no one found any difficulty in accepting the fact that the situation had changed and that not only in Gujarat but elsewhere in the country as well getting justice had become impossible.

However exactly after three years, when the Mumbai High Court hearing Bilkis-Bano-Gang-Rape-Case has upheld the life imprisonment to all  the convicts, to view it as an insignificant event or to compare it with the verdict regarding the Nirbhaya gang rape case would not be correct. Despite the fact that the convicts of Bilkis jahan case have escaped death sentences, the judiciary deserves our thanks and salute of honour.

What makes Bilkis Bano case so important is the fact that among the dozens other cases relating to Gujarat Riots, this is the first one in which the court has not only punished and sentenced the investigating police officers but has also the doctors, who performed autopsy on the dead bodies of the riot victims.

These beasts of Gujarat had not only gang-raped a pregnant Bilkis Bano but had also mercilessly killed 14 members of her family. The Trial Court had set the five investigating police officers and two doctors free. I cannot here go into all the details of the brutality Bilkis Bano faced in 2002. But in the light of the hardships and mental torture she and her surviving family members have been enduring since then, this judgement of Mumbai High Court, delivered after 15 years, is very important and satisfactory. 

Let’s not lessen its importance by comparing it with Supreme Court’s judgement in the Nirbhaya case. This judgement is a slap on the faces of those who had come to believe that post 2014 all the judicial institutions had become subservient to them and no institution, including the Supreme Court, would dare deliver justice to the victims.

Those fighting Bilkis Bano case still have an opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court to get death sentence to the convicts on the basis of principles par of Nirbhaya case. But for this, we will have to display a gigantic trust and take comfort in the fact that the Mumbai High court has charge-sheeted even those police officers and doctors, who had been exonerated earlier.

In the given environment in the country, we cannot afford to criticise the judiciary and find faults with it. Along with this, we also need to encourage and appreciate the efforts of the lawyers who, out of sheer love for the community, risked their own lives and succeeded in getting exemplary court judgements.

This reminds me a particular case. I am sure readers would remember the case of Himayat Baig, an accused of German Bakery Blast case. The Trial court had awarded Himayat Baig five times death sentence and four times life imprisonment. This case was then taken to the well-known lawyer Mehmood Paracha. He fought the case free of cost and presented such powerful legal arguments that the Mumbai High Court ordered Himayat’s all four death sentences and four life imprisonments null and void. In the Indian Express of 18 March, 2015, Amir Akram reported that the judges had said to the accused, ‘Aap-ko-phaansi-ki-sazaa-se-bari-kiya-jaata-hai.’ (You are being acquitted of the death sentence.)

After this verdict, let us sincerely ponder over as to how Muslim organizations should have treated Mehmood Paracha for his achievement. Perhaps the majority of people would not know that merely few hours after this judgment was delivered, a major Muslim organisation took 147 cases back from Mehmood Paracha. Following that, yet another Muslim organisation also gradually disengaged him. Several nonsensical allegations were levelled against him and an English language Muslim news portal was used for this.

Having briefly narrated this incident, I ask the Social-Media-Warriors who have been indirectly criticising the Bilkis Bano case judgement, having seen these mysterious activities of our organizations, are we not, by criticising the courts, committing the same crime that has been committed by taking cases away from Mehmood Piracha? We should have, instead, saluted, on the one hand, our fellow countrymen, who have been supporting us, and the justice loving judges, and, on the other hand, should have searched for lawyers like Mehmood Piracha and should have come to their support. [Sadly] We fail to do what needs to be done and waste our time and energy in unnecessary discussions day and night. If we cannot mend our ways even after watching the [ugly and unmasked] face that a section has exposed of itself, when will we do so? Are we waiting for the doomsday?

The article first appeared on UrduMediaMonitor.com

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Punjab: Marginal and Central’, edited by Karthik Venkatesh, author and editor, Bangalore, India.

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