Bilkis Bano Convicts: Who Is Accountable for the ‘Fraud’ by Gujarat Government?

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People convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 Gujarat riots, being welcomed as they come out of the Godhra sub-jail after the Gujarat government allowed their release in 2022. Photo: X
There has to be a cost for being held guilty of fraud and complicity by learned judges. Who will pay this price? This is a blot on our famed ‘Gujarat Model’ of governance. We as a nation are a bit relieved, finally. After some back to back judicial reverses where the country’s top court seemed to have failed to stand up for us, the Supreme Court made some amends yesterday by ordering that the rapists of Bilkis Bano surrender and go back to jail.

That any requiem for the rule of law need not be written yet is a huge relief. In sending back the rapists where they rightly belong, the top court has once again restored in us some hope that we need to celebrate in these challenging times.

In more ways than one, Monday’s ruling would qualify as a rousing one – if one is permitted to say so in legalese. Apart from reversing what was a grotesque abuse of power that saw the rapists being let off prematurely, it tore into the Gujarat government that perpetuated the hair-raising abuse in the first place.

Being held guilty of fraud and complicity by the learned judges is certainly a blot on our famed Gujarat Model of governance.  And if the Gujarat government has any shame, it should be very deeply ashamed after what the judges said.

But hold on. Have you seen any contrition on the part of anyone responsible for this abuse yet? Has anyone owned up any responsibility?

Perhaps, I am being too demanding. After all, it’s just been a day since the scathing ruling was delivered and the Gujarat government was taken to the cleaners. May be, we need to be more patient and await some shame to kick in among at least  some over time.

But the signs in the first 24 hours are rather ominous, leaving little room for any optimism.

While we rejoice and hail the judgment, the ecosystem that aids and abets the establishment that from time to time shocks us by its recurrent overreach has gone silent.

The prime minister has not spoken. The home minister too has not spoken. None has heard the Gujarat chief minister say anything on the denouement. For that matter, none who matters in Gujarat have said anything yet.

The outrage that we felt at the remission of the sentences for the rapists and the relief that we are currently bathing in following its reversal do not seem to be shared by one and all. Last night’s prime time television shows offered us a glimpse of the lack of excitement on the part of many. Barring a few, most anchors were busy outraging over Maldives.

Obviously, some have chosen to duck the Bilkis Bano ruling for the time being. They expect the embarrassment to blow over before it becomes business as usual, allowing them to abuse and misuse the authority vested in them with impunity once again.

It is the impunity that should worry us, even as we revel in the court ruling.

That there is no talk of who in the Gujarat government was behind this abuse and whether he, she, or they should be held accountable is worrisome indeed.

The morning newspapers the day after have reported extensively on the state’s complicity quoting the judgment . But who exactly in the government? It cannot be that the government did what it did on an automated mode. There must have been people behind this – politicians and bureaucrats – who had attempted to brazenly subvert the law and free the rapists later declared as ‘sanskaris‘.

Shouldn’t they be held accountable?  Don’t we need to make them pay a price so that the punishment meted out to them act as a deterrent?

The anonymity that our administrators enjoy has been a bane. People are wrongly charged – including with sedition – and when the cases are ultimately thrown out, nothing happens to the ones who initiated and signed the files. It is only the victims who are made to invariably bear the burden of such abuse of power.

Ditto with this latest Gujarat episode. Amid all the rejoicing, the real perpetrators of this gross abuse that they nearly pulled off seems to be getting away.

Allowing the officials to hide behind the anonymity of a state government and evade responsibility is reprehensible. Sending the rapists back to jail and letting the officials go scot free will only be justice half done.

Ruben Banerjee is the former editor-in-chief of Outlook and the author of the book Naveen Patnaik.

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Disclaimer: Bilkis Bano Convicts: Who Is Accountable for the 'Fraud' by Gujarat Government? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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