US advocacy organizations begin Navratri fast chain supporting Bilkis Bano


Two advocacy organizations – Hindus for Human Rights and Chain Fasting for Peace – have started a Navaratri Fast Chain in support of those participating in the Hindu Muslim Ekta Samiti of the Indian Socialist Party’s recently planned ‘Apologising to Bilkis Bano’ Padyatra (foot march) from Randhikpur to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

Bano is a rape survivor from Godhra in Gujarat. She was brutally assaulted and raped by 11 Hindu men during the 2002 communal riots that engulfed the state in which an estimated 2000 people were killed in a period of three days. Hundreds of women, most of them Muslim, were gangraped by rampaging mobs wielding swords and petrol bombs between February 28 and March 2, 2002.

On August 15, 2022, the Gujarat government released Bano’s rapists, who were convicted by multiple courts, after a specially appointed panel that included two BJP lawmakers and another BJP women’s wing member, recommended a remission of their life sentence. After their release from prison, the rape convicts were felicitated by local BJP units by offering them sweets and touching their feet.

There was widespread anger across India following the release, and several rights organizations across the country took part in marches to protest the release.

On 18 August 2022, around 6,000 signatories, including activists, eminent writers, historians, filmmakers, journalists and former bureaucrats, urged the Supreme Court to revoke the early release of the rapists, while Opposition parties criticised the BJP, the governing party at both the Center as well as the state of Gujarat.

The convicts allegedly harassed the witnesses of the case when they were out on parole as recently as in the year 2021, which added to the criticism of the remission.

Last week, the Gujarat government did not allow the march, intended to take place from September 26 to October 4, to take place, and the participants were detained and then released. According to a press release issued by Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), the 198 km foot march of nine days was shortened to two days with only a couple of kilometers on foot, while the remaining distance was covered in police vehicles.

HfHR said that the marchers were not allowed to walk in support of Bilkis Bano, and have decided instead to fast for her “as a penance for the heinous crime of her gang rape and murder of her family members,” said a member of India’s Socialist Party.

“She has been further humiliated by the manner in which her 11 rapists have been felicitated after their release in Gujarat, and some of them have been described as virtuous Brahmins,” they said.

In a symbolic move, Sandeep Pandey, General Secretary of India’s Socialist Party, Gandhian peace activist, and Magsaysay Award Winner, has begun spinning yarn on a charka (spinning wheel), just as Mahatma Gandhi did as part of his civil disobedience movement.

HfHR said Pandey began the fast after the police prohibited him and his comrades from marching, and they have also received pressure from the police for attempting to fast in public.

The joint fast of HfHR and Chain Fasting for Peace is a relay fast to be conducted until the last day of Navaratri, October 4, 2022. This chain fast is in support of Pandey’s fast in solidarity with Bilkis Bano. The organizations said they will have nine volunteers fasting for 24 hours in support of Pandey’s fast, and in solidarity with Bilkis Bano.

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