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These are men who were convicted after a long fight for justice. Men who knew exactly what they were doing, and did so anyway.
Trigger Warning: This deals with rape, rape culture, and violence against women, and may be triggering for survivors.
When Nirbhaya was gang raped on a bus in a cold December winter night, I reacted as a woman. When Disha was gangraped and murdered while returning home from work, I reacted as a woman. What happened to them could have happened to any woman who was going about her business in public. Both incidents exposed exactly how vulnerable women were in public. I demanded justice for them. I demanded greater safety for women.
In the case of Bilkis Bano, it was different. She was chosen as a victim because of her religion. The rapists were not unknown to her- they were people from her neighbourhood, people she knew, people who chose to assault and rape her because of who she was.
However, unlike in the case of Nirbhaya and Disha, in case of Bilkis Bano, I did not react as a woman. Because what happened to Bilkis Bano was not something that could happen to any woman. What happened to Bilkis Bano was something that could only happen to a woman from a minority community.
Rape is not about sex; it is about power. But when a woman is raped during communal (or casteist or linguistic) violence, it is not just to assert power over a woman, but to tell an entire community that they are powerless to protect their women. Bilkis Bano was raped not because she was a woman, but because she was a Muslim woman.
When on the 75th Anniversary of our Independence, the 11 men who were serving a life sentence for raping Bilkis Bano were released, the overwhelming emotion I felt was revulsion and anger. Here were 11 men who were convicted of committing a most gruesome crime, being released for ‘good behaviour’.
These were men who gangraped a pregnant woman, smashed her 3 year old daughter’s head in with a stone, and killed 14 members of the family. These are men who would have killed Bilkis Bano too, and only spared her, because they presumed she was dead. These are men who were convicted after a long fight for justice. Men who knew exactly what they were doing, and did so anyway.
By releasing these men on grounds of “good behaviour”, the message being sent out was clear- Justice is the preserve only of Upper Class Hindus, and anyone else should not aspire to seek Justice.
As Indians, we have been brought up to believe that as citizens of India, our life is governed by the principles of Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. As Dr. Ambedkar said, “..(the Preamble to the Constitution is).. a way of life, which recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life and which cannot be divorced from each other.”
Each of us who loves the Constitution, naturally, feels betrayed by the act of releasing the 11 convicts, because it tells us that Justice is reserved only for certain communities, that all citizens cannot take equality, liberty or fraternity for granted.
I reacted as a woman to the gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya and Disha. I react as an Indian to the release of the men who gang raped Bilkis Bano.
Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.
The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.
Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!
“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."
The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.
The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.
Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.
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