In the series of deeply tragic incidents experienced by Bilkis Bano since 2002 – being raped and seeing her family members raped or killed in a communal riot, fighting relentlessly for the conviction of the perpetrators and for justice, and eventually to see the perpetrators walk free under a controversial remission policy system – can we really know what Bilkis has been through? Have we stopped to imagine what it could be like?
In the media, the expression ‘Bilkis Bano case’ is being used ad nauseum. It may be media lingo, but can all of this be just a ‘case’? For the judiciary, the technicality of the law – which remission policy of the Gujarat state government applies in this particular ‘case’ – seems to be the priority. Should it be the 1992 policy or the newer 2014 one? Should the time point when the ghastly incidents took place matter in deciding on remisison for the perpetrators, or should the nature of their crime (rape and murder) and its long lasting impact take centre stage?
We have come to expect many of our politicians to be scheming and manipulative. But won’t they draw a line anywhere at all? There clearly are politicians behind the remission of the perpetrators, and they have made their intent explicit that the perpetrators are more important to them than Bilkis’ pain and trauma – to the extent of publicly felicitating the convicts.
This is a tired old question, which, however, must be asked again and again. As all the heartless ‘calculations’ get played out in the public arena, we have to ask how did we arrive at this state of affairs? The political system, judiciary and media are all society’s creations meant to facilitate better lives for one and all. But they have developed a mind of their own that is often unmindful of what their creator needs, and the creator doesn’t seem to have the heart to question them harder about their responsibilities.
Justice is what all social institutions must strive for whenever something goes wrong or may go wrong. Justice has still not been done for Bilkis; in fact, it seems to have been undone. And what is justice without healing? Have Bilkis’ repeated mental traumas been addressed? Has the judiciary applied its mind ‘dispassionately’ to this aspect?
In an interview given to the BBC in May 2017, Bilkis said she wanted the perpetrators to serve life terms in prison. But more than exacting revenge, she wanted them to understand and realize the enormity of their crime. The essence of what she said clearly pointed at the need for self-realization and healing.
Bilkis’ trauma is that of others as well – irrespective of gender and religion. Whether we like it or not, we’re all connected. Incidents of unimaginable cruelty have happened against women and numerous other vulnerable social groups in the past as well, continuously and often invisibly adding on to our collective trauma. There’s not just a pile up of ‘cases’ in our courts of law, but a mountain of pain building up in our society.
We must all protest the remission of the perpetrators in any way we can – through signature campaigns, rallies, demonstrations or one-on-one public outreach campaigns in local trains, as is being done admirably and courageously by women’s groups in Mumbai. Students, teachers, writers, artists, and not to leave out policymakers – everyone should be engaged in discussing, debating and articulating what has happened to Bilkis Bano and what has happened to us!
Retribution may have its place in law and order, but the core element and goal of justice has to be healing, revealing the truth, and reconciling a divided society. Are we truly seized of this urgency? Otherwise, there’s always hell for us to burn in and be reduced to cinders.