Gujarat: Solidarity march for Bilkis Bano on hold after police detain activists

A ‘padyatra’ that was to be held in Gujarat on Monday, in solidarity with Bilkis Bano following the release of 11 convicts accused of raping her and murdering 14 members of her family, was put on hold after the Panchmahal district police on Sunday night detained seven activists as “a preventive action”.

The 180 km ‘padyatra’ from Randhikpur in Dahod to Ahmedabad was organised by social activists led by Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey and was to be held under the banner of Hindu Muslim Ekta Samiti. Pandey, who is among the detainees, has started a fast in protest of the police action at Kakanpur police station, where the activists have now been shifted. Two women activists, who were released, are also at the police station, protesting the police move.

On Sunday night, seven activists, including two women, were detained from the house of local municipal councillor Hanif Haji Kalandar in Godhra and brought to the town’s B-division police station. After the activists posted live videos on social media from the police station, locals gathered at the police station in support, prompting the police to shift the activists to another location.

“A huge crowd had gathered at the B-division police station, and to maintain law and order, the activists were taken to Kakanpur while the women were allowed to go. We have not arrested them. It is a preventive action as the ‘padyatra’ can cause law and order problems,” a senior official of the Panchmahal district police said. “Police have been deployed along the route from Godhra to Randhikpur and also on the main highway as we are expecting a crowd…It is a law and order issue and the police have only acted as per the provisions of the law,” the official added.

On Sunday night, the activists, wearing placards saying ‘Sorry Bilkis’ around their necks, streamed live videos where they were seen arguing with the police. “You can see, we have decided to have this ‘padyatra’ to seek an apology from Bilkis Bano. We are not even doing it against the government. We are just seeking an apology from her because she had been gang-raped, her child and family killed, and yet, the convicts were released. She has been living in fear and we want to seek an apology. Is this a protest against the government, then?”

“Are we criminals that around 200 police personnel were sent to my house to detain us? What about the men who gang-raped Bilkis, killed her 3-year-old and other 14 members? If they (convicts) are innocent and preachers of peace, are we criminals,” councillor Kalandar asked.

Bilkis Bano was gang-raped and several of her kin were killed in the post-Godhra riots that took place in the state in 2002.

The Gujarat government released 11 convicts in the case under its remission and premature release policy after one of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah, moved the Supreme Court. Shah, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a CBI court in Mumbai in 2008, had completed 15 years and 4 months in jail.

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