Of Bilkis Bano,Wani And Varsha Dongre: Joining the Dots

SANDEEP PANDEY
Friday, May 19,2017

NEW DELHI: Nineteen accused were convicted in the May 4, 2017 judgement of the Bombay High Court related to the Bilkis Bano gang rape and rape and murder of 14 other family members,including her three and half year old daughter Saleha during the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.These included 5 police police officers and 2 doctors who were acquitted by the Sessions Court in 2008.

These officials were accused of trying to cover up the crime. This is the first time that in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat violence that government officials have been convicted. This raises the question - on whose directions were these officers acting? Does it not point to the complicity of the state, which is slowly being accepted as the unspoken truth about the Gujarat 2002 communal violence?

On April 26, 2017 the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked the Uttar Pradesh state counsel for how many more years the government intended to keep Gulzar Ahmed Wani in jail? Wani has spent 16 years in jail and has been acquitted in 10 out of 11 terror cases filed against him. He is presently undergoing trial in the 2000 Sabarmati train blast case.

The prosecution has examined only 20 out of 96 witnesses in the last decade and a half. Justice Khehar asked why Wani should suffer in jail merely because the police cannot come up with any evidence. The Bench gave the trial court time until October 31, 2017 to complete the trial, failing which Wani will be released on bail on November 1, 2017 irrespective of whether the trial is completed or not.

Gulzar Ahmed Wani was a Ph.D. scholar before the police decided to make him a terrorist 16 years ago. This is a classic example of how innocents suffer at the hands of police.

On the other hand we have cases like that of Bilkis Bano in which initially the police refused to name the accused in a First Information Report. In about a year's time a Judicial Magistrate decided to close the case as the police report pointed to inconsistencies in the charges. Even the state Crime Investigation Department was harrassing Bilkis Bano in the name of investigation. The apex court had to ask the Central Bureau of Investigation to take up the case. Had it not been for meticulous investigation and the honesty of some CBI officials and a public prosecutor, the culprits would have gone scot free.

How difficult it is for a government official to take a stand is clear from the case of Dalit police officer from Chhattisgarh Varsha Dongre who was suspended following revelations by her of torture and sexual abuse that tribal girls are subjected to at police stations in that state. She reported how tribal girls are stripped and given electric shocks.

Dongre has taken the position that as a civil servant she is accountable to both the government as well as the people and if she feels something is unconstitutional she considers it her duty to point that out. She feels sad that her compatriots are dying on both sides in the struggle of the state and the people against Maoism. She is not only raising the issue of human rights violations at individual levels, but also the larger issue of how the right of tribals over their natural resources are being violated in Schedule V (of the Constitution) areas in order to benefit private corporations.

This upright officer considers it her right to freedom of expression to air such views and doesn't think that by becoming a government servant this right is compromised in any way. This is indeed an exemplary stand taken by her because most government officials simply choose to keep mum on any irregularities taking place inside the system under the notion that as servants of the government they are supposed to protect all it's legal or illegal doings.

This is not the first act of bravey of Varsha Dongre. After being snubbed by Chief Minister Raman Singh in 2006 when she went to him with a complaint about irregularities in the recruitment for 147 civil services posts by the Chhattisgarh Public Services Commission, she filed a petition in court. It took ten years but she won the case. The court remarked that it was because of her persistence and tenacity that irregularities in recruitment were exposed. A fresh merit list was ordered to be prepared.

An officer like Varsha Dongre needs to be awarded and promoted so that she can be in some responsible position and take decisions to free the system of the rot that has corroded its vitals. The government must realise that corrupt, arrogant officers cannot solve the problem of Maoism. If anything, they will complicate the situation further, as they have done all these years. By sidelining an extremely competent and brave officer like Varsha Dongre,the government is denying itself of her services which could have been beneficial for it.

The propensity of governments to rely on corrupt and arrogant offcials is self defeating in addition to such officials becoming anathema for the people. Officials like Varsha Dongre will always enjoy the confidence of the people and will remain extremely popular. This will also be their ultimate reward.

(Sandeep Pandey is currently a visiting faculty at IIT Gandhinagar. He is a Magsaysay awardee)



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