Gujarat: Protests over the release of 11 men convicted of raping a Muslim woman
The violence occurred in 2002 following a train fire in Godhra. Protesters complain that the rapists were released because they were Hindu nationalists and the victim was Muslim. “What justice system is this, in our country?” asks Sister Meena Barwa speaking to AsiaNews.
Ahmedabad (AsiaNews) – Protests are growing against the release of 11 men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for raping a Muslim woman, Bilkis Bano, during riots in March 2002.
The anti-Muslim violence was sparked by a train fire at the railway station in Godhra (Gujarat) blamed on Muslims. Some 58 Hindu pilgrims died on their way back from Ayodhya, which has a sacred place claimed by both Hindus and Muslims.
Many Indian associations spoke out against the clemency shown to the convicted rapists, released for “good” behaviour, claiming that they were freed because they were Hindu nationalists and that the victim was a Muslim woman.
As a consequence, thousands of people took to the streets recently calling on the Supreme Court to review the decision.
The men attacked Banu in a village near Ahmedabad on 3 March 2002, during riots that took place while the current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was chief minister of Gujarat.
At the time, the victim was 19 years old and pregnant. Some 14 members of her family were killed, including her three-year-old daughter, whose had her head smashed to the ground by the attackers.
Two weeks ago, on 15 August, the convicted rapists were released from prison in Godhra, after the Gujarat government approved their request, greeted with sweets by relatives.
A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), one of the largest Hindu nationalist organisation, congratulated them upon their release.
The release followed recommendations from a ten-member state commission – five of whom belong to the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), including two lawmakers.
Sister Meena Barwa, a nun from Odisha, who was raped during the religiously motivated violence in the district of Kandhamal in 2008, spoke to AsiaNews about the case.
“As I look at Bilkis Bano, my eyes are filled with tears, and I feel pain in my own heart,” she said. “What justice system is this, in our country?”
“Fourteen years ago, I was attacked and violated only because I was a Christian religious Sister. I can imagine what she goes through.”
For her, “The trauma was nearly unbearable. Court proceedings at the first trial traumatised me all over again. [. . .] I cannot control my tears. How much can we suffer? I am filled with sorrow, pain, and disappointment.”