Protesters gather in New Delhi on Aug. 27 calling on the government to reverse a decision by Gujarat state to release the rapists of a Muslim woman. (Photo: Bijay Kumar/UCA News)
Civil society groups staged a protest in New Delhi on Aug. 27 against a decision by Gujarat state earlier this month to release 11 men jailed for the gang rape 20 years ago of a Muslim woman.
The protesters held placards, sang songs, chanted slogans in solidarity with rape victim Bilkis Bano and called on the federal government to reverse the decision.
Bano, then 21, was gang raped by 11 men in a village near Ahmedabad on March 3, 2002, during riots in Gujarat.
Fourteen members of her family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter.
However, on Aug. 15, the convicts were released from Godhra jail after the Gujarat government approved their application under its remission policy.
“The decision to release the rapists will send the wrong message that people can commit crimes and get away scot-free within no time,” Father Felix Jones, head of Delhi Archdiocese’s Commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue, told UCA News.
"As Christians we should always stand for the truth and justice"
“It was very surprising that on Independence Day the prime minister in his address to the nation talked about the empowerment of women and on the very same day the culprits were set free from jail,” said Father Jones, who attended the protest march at Jantar Mantar, a government allotted place for protests in central Delhi.
“We assembled here to show our solidarity with Bilkis Bano not because she comes from a minority group but as Christians, we should always stand for the truth and justice, that should be our first priority,” the priest said.
Sister Dorothy Fernandes, the national convener of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), expressed their "wholehearted solidarity with Bilkis Bano and her family" in a statement.
“The brutality which she and her dear ones were subjected to 20 years ago and the immense suffering she has gone through because of the loss of her loved ones, defies human sensibilities. It was a crime against humanity.
“Thanks to her indomitable courage and her relentless struggle for justice, 11 of the perpetrators of this crime were awarded life imprisonment some years ago,” Sister Fernandes said.
The release of the criminals was a "totally unthinkable and unacceptable deed," it said.
"We cannot stand and watch this happen to our country"
The FORUM members "unequivocally condemn this biased, unjustified and unwarranted release. We join in the national and international outrage and demand that all of them are sent back to prison immediately and unconditionally," the statement said.
The religious also called upon central and state governments, the judiciary, and "all those who can decide on such matters" to expeditiously reverse the decision to release the criminals.
They also demanded security and protection for Bano and her family.
Shabana Azmi, an actress and women's rights activist, said that what happened to Bano and to her family "is terrible."
"We cannot stand and watch this happening to our country," Azmi said while addressing the New Delhi gathering.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said the accused have been given a reward, not a remission. For committing a crime, they were garlanded and sweets were distributed."
Meanwhile, at least 134 former civil servants on Saturday wrote an open letter to the Chief Justice of India protesting against the premature release.