Bilkis Bano case: An open letter to the U.S. Secretary of State on travesty of justice in India

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

By Muslim Mirror Network

Washington ( DC): International Society for Peace and Justice(ISPJ), a rights body in US has written an open letter to Antony J. Blinken, the Secretary of State on the early release of 11 men convicted of gang rape of a Muslim woman and killing of her 14 relatives during the Gujarat riots in 2002.

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Text of the letter

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We are a nonprofit human rights group, writing to express our outrage about the release from an Indian jail 11 men convicted of gang-raping a young Muslim woman and murdering seven of her relatives, including the woman’s 3-year-old daughter, during sectarian violence in the state of Gujarat in March of 2002.

This decision is a slap in the face to every survivor of rape in India who has sought justice, as well as those who survived the Gujarat pogrom and are still seeking justice.

Bilkis Bano, who was 21 and pregnant at the time of the riots, fled from her village with her relatives as Hindu mobs attacked Muslims, whom they blamed for starting a fire on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Dozens of people died in the train fire, and thousands more died over three days of anti-Muslim violence.

Eleven men involved in the attack on Bano and her family were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2008. They were released on August 15 – the same day India marked 75 years of independence from Great Britain – based on the recommendations of a Gujarat state panel.

Please note that Gujarat is governed by the right-wing, Hindu-supremacist BJP, the political party which controls the national government and is led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The current prime minister was chief minister of Gujarat at the time of the riots 20 years ago.

People convicted of major crimes, such as rape and murder, typically cannot be released early under current national and Gujarat law, but the state panel recommended these 11 men be released because of factors such as their good behavior while incarcerated, ages and having served at least 14 years of their sentences. One of the convicts had petitioned the nation’s Supreme Court for early release.

The prime minister delivered a nearly 90-minute address to the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi on August 15 to mark 75 years of Indian independence. In his speech, he set economic development goals for the next 25 years, spoke out against corruption and nepotism, and issued calls for national unity and to uplift India’s women.

Mr. Modi’s words ring hollow, though, if 11 men convicted of murder and rape – the latter being classified as a war crime and a crime against humanity by the United Nations – are released from prison early. It only adds insult to injury when members of the Hindu nationalist organization VHP place garlands of flowers around the necks of the convicts, and when a top BJP official in Gujarat describes the men as “Brahmins” and “men of good sanskar,” in essence, high-caste men of good character.

Ms. Bano is serving a life sentence of pain and trauma from the attack; it seems that the most reasonable thing to do is to ensure the men who inflicted such pain and trauma also serve life.

Many other people accused of committing atrocities during the Gujarat pogrom have walked free, never facing justice or accountability. The culpability for those riots goes all the way up to Mr. Modi, but he has never faced accountability.

His political party, as well as other Hindu nationalist organizations such as VHP and the Bajrang Dal, all spring from the same source, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS. This right-wing, Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization and its political arms should be designated as terrorist entities because of the pain, suffering and violence they have caused in India over the last century, all in the name of turning India from a secular democracy into a Hindu-majority state.

We request that you reach out to your counterparts in India and urge them to reverse this action, to ensure the safety of Ms. Bano, her family and the general public. The BJP leaders cannot talk of uplifting women and at the same time allow gang rapists and murders to go free.

If Mr. Modi wants his country to join the community of developed nations, then he must put initiatives in place that will give women of all faiths equal status in society. India cannot be part of the civilized world if its leaders set criminals free and celebrate them.

If these leaders continue to identify with criminals, then the world should take note and isolate them until they change course. If the United States and its allies truly stand for human rights around the world, then its leaders cannot interact with those who are involved in aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sincerely,
David Anderson
Outreach Director
International Society for Peace and Justice

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