NEW DELHI - It was Independence Day — for rapists and murderers. On August 15, 11 convicts serving life terms for having committed mass murder and gang-raping Muslim women in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 were released, writes Apoorvanand in Aljazeera.

The state government had ordered their remission. It is not a coincidence that their release came on a day when India marked 75 years of freedom from colonialism. The men were garlanded when they stepped out of prison. This wasn’t just about Bilkis.

Scores of feminists, human rights defenders and organisations joined hands to shelter Bilkis, who had to live in hiding for her safety, constantly moving from one place to another.

Their fight was also for every other person brutalised and murdered in what, in the eyes of many, was part of a genocidal crime against Muslims. When people with no criminal record decide to rape and kill women and men for their religion, as happened in 2002, it becomes all the more heinous. Now, justice is being trampled upon.

After one of the convicts appealed to the Supreme Court for release, the top court of the land asked the Gujarat government to act in keeping with the state’s remission policy in 2002. Using holes in that policy, a Gujarat government-appointed committee — loaded with BJP members — recommended remission.

Never mind that Bilkis, who lives in close proximity to the homes of the released convicts, must now fear for her life, and the safety of her family, once more. The message to Bilkis and all those who held her hands while she fought for justice is clear: This is how battles for justice will end in Modi’s India; that crimes against Muslims — even mass murders and gang rapes — will be treated lightly.

Sadly, none of this is surprising. After all, it was under Modi’s rule in Gujarat that Bilkis first had to run for her life and hide from the state machinery. It was Modi’s government in the state that fought her as she battled for justice. Going back further, it is important to remember that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, one of the ideological gurus of the ruling dispensation, had once justified rape as a legitimate weapon that could deter Muslims from doing the same to Hindu women.

It is also not a coincidence that calls for the murder of Muslims and rape of Muslim women have been given by so-called Hindu religious leaders in recent months.

Instead of punishing them, Indian authorities have targeted those who exposed this hate speech, such as fact-checker Mohammad Zubair, who was arrested on spurious grounds.


Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi. He writes literary and cultural criticism.