Musician Rabbi Shergill, who once moved the country with his song ‘Bilquis‘ that evoked the horrific gang rape of Bilkis Bano during the 2002 Gujarat riots, on Monday sent out a message of compassion for the survivor amid the nationwide outrage over the release of the 11 men convicted of the crime.
“I want to tell Bilkis, come to Punjab, we will protect you with our last drop of blood. The sardars will take care of you. And it’s not just about my community. I personally want to hug her and convey to her that her pain is our pain, and she is not alone,” he said on NDTV’s show No Spin.
“And that is my message to almost everyone. And largely the message is please let’s just start caring about justice. Because if we don’t do that, we hollow out our society. We don’t have heroes. Our next generation just wants to leave,” Mr Shergill said.
“There is a crisis of morality in our country. There is a crisis of leadership. My generation, the media should step up a notch. The judiciary and the politicians – largely, if you talk to people – we have been forsaken by them, and we only have each other,” he added.
On August 15, as India celebrated 75 years of Independence, all 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 case of Bilkis Bano’s gang rape and murder of her seven family members during the Gujarat riots walked out of the Godhra sub-jail.
Their release was allowed by the state’s BJP government under its remission policy, drawing severe criticism from Opposition parties and civil society.
A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, had sentenced them to life imprisonment. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
They were released after the Supreme Court directed the government to consider the plea of the convicts for relief under the state’s 1992 remission policy. They were welcomed by groups linked to the BJP with sweets, hugs and garlands.
A BJP MLA, part of the panel that cleared their release, called the men Brahmins with “good sanskar” (culture). The convicts had served more than 15 years in prison, after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.
Bilkis Bano was 21 when she saw seven members of her family murdered. Among them was her daughter, who was just three years old. Seven other relatives, who she says were also killed, were declared “missing”. The woman, five months pregnant, was then gang-raped.