On 15th August, the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, 11 people convicted of gang-rape and murders during the Gujarat genocide of 2002 were set free. They had been sentenced in 2008 with life imprisonment for the heinous crime of gang-raping a pregnant woman Bilkis Bano, and killing 14 members of her extended family. They had also raped other members of her family and killed her three-year old child by smashing her head with a rock.
The Gujarat genocide, which began in February 2002, was a well organised mass crime. Eyewitness accounts and investigation by concerned citizens have shown that the barbaric acts of violence were carried out by gangs which had the backing of the administrative and police machinery. The BJP, which was in charge of the government in Gujarat, had incited people to take revenge against Muslims. Muslims were blamed for the fire in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station, which killed several kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. The communal violence that followed that tragedy lasted for several weeks and led to thousands of deaths. Women were raped and children orphaned.
Bilkis Bano was one of the victims of that mass crime committed 20 years ago. She fought for justice in the face of enormous obstacles, including threats to her life. She had to repeatedly change her place of residence to keep herself alive. Those who had raped her and killed her child and other family members were finally convicted by the Bombay High Court in 2008. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The setting free of the 11 convicts at this time has been rightly condemned by numerous parties and personalities as a gross travesty of justice. The release of convicts guilty of such a horrendous crime as gang rape and mass murders is against all principles of justice. It is an act that drives home the point that the victims of communal violence in our country cannot expect any justice. The law does not protect their rights.
The fact that parties in charge of executive power can get away with the most horrendous crimes and manipulate the judicial system in their interest exposes the so-called Rule of Law as a complete fraud. All members of society are not equal before the law. Those who have the backing of the ruling class are above the law.
There are tens of thousands of people who are languishing in the jails, without having ever been tried and convicted of any crime. Those guilty of the most heinous crimes are generally not apprehended. Even those few who have been convicted of heinous crimes are set free by their political masters. On the other hand, those who have been waging a courageous struggle for justice for the victims of the Gujarat genocide have been thrown into jail. They have been accused of defaming the Gujarat government, which allegedly tried its best to halt the violence in February-March 2002.
The law oppresses the toiling people. The state, which is expected to protect the lives and rights of all citizens, consistently protects those who trample on people’s rights, who rape and murder innocent citizens.
The ruling class and its politicians would like the people to believe that the release of those convicted in the Bilkis case is an isolated incident. However, life experience shows that this is not an isolated incident. Denial of justice for the victims of communal violence is not an exception. It has been the general rule.
In 1984, the Congress Party was in charge of the Central Government when communal violence was unleashed against Sikhs in Delhi and several other places. The victims of that mass crime also had to wage a protracted uphill struggle for justice. The principal parties in parliament, the bureaucracy, security forces and the judiciary were all ranged against them.
Those guilty of having masterminded the 1984 genocide were never punished. In a repeat of this injustice, those who masterminded the Gujarat genocide in 2002 have also not been punished. Even the participants at the lowest level, who got convicted of their crimes, have been set free. There have been many other instances of communal violence and in no case have those who organised it been convicted and punished. Parties backed by the money power of big capitalists use the state machinery to organise communal violence and get away without any punishment.
Every time communal violence takes place, it is officially recorded as a “riot”. This is aimed at hiding the truth that it was organised with political motives. Both in 1984 and 2002, the party which was in charge of the government won an absolute majority in the elections which followed the genocide. Those who organised the communal violence were rewarded with high positions.
The political motive underlying the organising of these mass crimes is not limited to the electoral ambitions of this or that party. Most importantly, communal violence serves the ruling class. It serves to prevent the toiling and exploited majority of people from uniting against their common exploiters and oppressors, the bourgeoisie headed by the monopoly capitalists.
Having inherited the tactics and methods of divide and rule from the British Raj, the Indian ruling class has found it convenient to preserve and further perfect them. State-organised communal violence and inciting of communal hatred have become an integral part of the political process and method of rule.
The situation calls on all communists, all progressive and democratic organisations and individuals, to unite and advance the struggle for justice.
We cannot afford to have any illusions about the so-called secular nature of the Indian state. Article 25 of the Constitution states that individuals have freedom of conscience; that they are free to practice and propagate any religion of their choice. The repeated incidence of communal violence, when people are systematically attacked and killed on account of their religion, proves that the existing state does not actually defend the Right to Conscience.
We must persist in demanding that the guilty must be punished. Those who organise, incite and give protection for rape and murder should be considered to have committed as grave a crime as those who execute those acts. Those in command, whose duty is to protect people’s lives and dignity, must be held responsible for crimes committed under their command. They must be charged with the crime of failing to fulfil their duty to the people. If the guilty are not punished, there will be no end to these monstrous crimes.
The struggle for justice will be crowned with victory when the rule of the bourgeoisie headed by the monopoly capitalists is replaced with the rule of the toiling masses of people. The existing thoroughly communal state can then be replaced with a state that ensures protection of the right to conscience, a state that guarantees prompt and severe punishment for those who abuse women or trample on human rights in any way.