BILKIS BANU GETS JUSTICE FROM SC!

By Rajan Narayan

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the verdict of the Supreme Court asked the freed criminals in the Bilkis Banu case to surrender. For a Saturday following the week when Purple Fest started on Monday, January 8. For a Saturday following the week about the role played by the then Congress Prime Minister of India PV Narasimha Rao during the demolition of the Babri Masjid. And the demand for overseas citizenship of India by Goans who have taken Portuguese passports. For a Saturday following the week when homestays are posing a big challenge to five-star hotels.
AND a few stray thoughts on the recent verdict of the Supreme Court asking for the asked the released criminals in the Bilkis Banu case to surrender. The criminals had gang raped Bilkis Banu and killed nine members of her family during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002. The Gujarat state government had remitted which means pardoned the criminals involved in this horrible major crime.
The Bilkis Banu case is one of the very few cases of its kind which did lead to the conviction of the criminals involved. The case was transferred to Bombay High Court jurisdiction after Bilkis Banu claimed she would get no justice in Gujarat. The Gujarat government order was interestingly upheld by the early bench in the Supreme Court in 2022. Putting aside the remission order the Supreme Court pointed out that the state government had no power to remit the sentences of the criminals in this case. The jurisdiction lay with the Bombay High Court since the criminals were convicted by the Bombay High Court. The SC took serious notice of the unilateral action of the Gujarat government and ruled that it has violated the law in granting remission to the rapists and killers of Bilkis Banu and her family.
With this most recent judgment like a ray of sunshine at last Bilkis Banu expressed happiness. This is what it feels like to get justice. Her case was taken up by human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who has been in the forefront asking for action against those who perpetrated the communal riots in Gujarat.
The Gujarat government then led by Narendra Modi allegedly asked the police not to take any action during the riots. There are police officers who admitted to the court that they were asked not to interfere but let the people vent their anger as they wished. The Godhra riots targeting the Muslim minority community claiming that they were in retaliation for the killing of kar sevaks in the train returning to Gujarat after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The riots set of a chain reaction with attacks taking place in Mumbai and other parts of the country. This is the first time that the Supreme Court has taken action against a defiant, biased Gujarat government. It’s the first critical major setback to Narendra Modi, who was the then chief minister of Gujarat during the riots.

PURPLE FEST
AND A few stray thoughts on the Purtple Festival which commenced on Monday, January 8. It is a rare one of a kind festival seeing a global get together of people with disabilities. The expression here of PwD with a small “w” does not mean Public Work Department, it means People with Disabilities. At the Dayanand Bandodkar grounds of the Campal promenade there is an entire exhibition for the disabled community of equipment and all kinds of things useful to make their life easier to live.
There was a grand musical event too in which disabled children from across Goa participated. They sang the Purple Festival’s anthem along with people from the music business industry. The festival’s aim was to make a cross section of society aware of the need and universal human rights of people with disabilities. The demand is that the disabled be integrated with normal society, particularly in the realm of education and equal opportunity for job vacancies they can do. While the government departments have a quota for jobs for the disabled, the private sector is reluctant to give jobs to the disabled even though they are qualified to do many jobs just as well as the able.
There were films narrating stories of courage of disabled people, how they triumphed against great odds. People with disabilities can overcome their disabilities given the moral support, training in skills and provided the inputs they need in cash and in kind. They can succeed and have succeeded in all walks of life and have proved it.
Remember the case of the famous UK scientist Stephan Hawking who suffered ALS disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease? It is to do with the degeneration of motor neurons, but it did affect his brains to stop him from working on the physics of black holes and writing best-selling books, the most famous being “A Brief History of time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes” (1988). He was one of the leading scientists of the world.
The Purple Fest also saw sporting events for the disabled contestants, in fact wheelchair cricket and volleyball games with both disabled and able citizens who proved that fitness must be inclusive and not exclusive. There are other events too and the Purple Festival was widely promoted by the government of Goa with the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announcing that he hopes to make it an annual global festival from now onwards.
The festival as organized by the Disability Commission of Goa along with Central government agencies. Union Minister of State for Social Justice & Empowerment Ramdas Athawale was the chief guest at that festival along with many other ministers and dignitaries present. The six-day festival saw participation not only from Goa but other states of India with the help of various NGOs engaged in helping the physically handicapped, there were also some international delegates and a huge delegation from Tamil Nadu. Goa of course was a very active participant in the Purple Festival event.

BABRI MASJID
AND a few stray thoughts on the role of the then Congress Prime Minister of India PV Narasimha Rao during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The BJP is primarily to be blamed for the Babri Masjid demolition in in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The claim was that the Babri Masjid was built by Mir Baqi, the commander of Mughal Emperor Babur. This was disputed by the Hindutva brigade.
BJP leader LK Advani organized an extremely successful “rath yatra” to Ayodhya starting from Gujarat. Only former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar had the guts to stop the rath yatra. The day of the demolition saw a gathering of kar sevaks from all over the country at the Babri Masjid site. We remember visiting a camp in Bicholim in Goa where bricks were made by kar sevaks, these bricks were to go towards building the new Ram Mandir. Narendra Modi came to power on the promise to restore Hindu pride by building the Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
Senior leaders of the BJP including LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj were present during the demolition of Babri Masjid. Kalyan Singh, then BJP chief minister, did not do anything to stop the demolition of the controversial masjid. Kalyan Singh went a step further and refused to permit the Central Security Forces to intervene to stop the demolition. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao went into meditation during the demolition. Several secular-minded leaders and citizens tried to alert him but were told by his staff that he was busy praying and meditating in his room and could not be disturbed. Narasimha Rao emerged from his chamber only after the demolition was complete. It is widely believed that Narasimha Rao deliberately turned a blind eye to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
So in a sense the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was as much a party to the demolition as the BJP leaders and BJP kar sevak. The demolition of the Babri Masjid brought the BJP rich dividends. It had barely less than ten seats in Parkliameant at that time. In the elections held after the demolition the BJP won a clear majority in the Parliament.
The inauguration of the new Ram Mandir scheduled to be on January 22, marks the fulfilment of Narendra Modi’s dream to build the Ram Mandir on the site of the disputed Babri Masjid structure. The Supreme Court granted permission for the temple to come up. It is not known whether it has come up on the site of the demolition site or an area close by. There was also provision for building a mosque nearby which presumably nobody has taken seriously. But when history is written the role of Narasimha Rao in facilitating the demolition of the Babri Masjid cannot be ignored.

OCI PLEASE!
AND a few stray thoughts on the demand for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) by Goans disenfranchised recently because they have taken Portuguese passports. The demand follows the cancellation of the Indian passports of those who have registered their birth in Portugal. Earlier, only when Goans renounced their Indian citizenship they lost their Indian passport. The Overseas Citizenship of India or OCI is a facility extended to all non-resident Goans. Overseas citizenship of India does not offer full citizenship to non-residents but it is almost a complete acceptance of the demand of dual nationality.
The Overseas Citizenship of India card gives non-residents all the facilities enjoyed by the citizens who are residents of Goa under Indian law, to those born in India and in Goa before Liberation, and even those born after Liberation, they automatically became citizens of India.
The non-resident Indian citizenship is extended to people of Indian origin. This is to enable Indian residents and non-residents to travel to India without any problems. They can also stay in India as long as they want to. They have to extend their visas periodically to keep their OCI membership valid. The token fee for the OCI membership is a very small amount for non-resident Goans. Non-resident Goans form a large community in the UK and several other countries.

HOMESTAYS CHALLENGE
AND a last stray thought on how the many homestays coming up Goa are posing a big challenge to five-star hotels in particular. Many foreign domestic tourists prefer homestays to luxury hotel accommodation. The problem is five-star hotels pretty much price themselves out of the market during festive seasons like Christmas and New Year’s eve when many domestic tourists from the middle class to richer families preferred to travel abroad. Airfares to destinations like Bangkok, Malaysia and Singapore are cheaper than destinations in India. Airfare to Goa for instance for a New Year’s eve party is as high as Rs15,000 one way. Ditto for airfares during Christmas days.
The tourism industry worries but during peak season all sing full occupancy. I presume the Sunburn Festival also helps fill up accommodation. Homestays are where most people opt to stay with Goan families. Many of the ancestral homes in Goa have been converted into homestays. I recall a doctor friend from Mumbai who opted for a stay at Majorda. He was very happy with his homestay experience. In this case, the whole family ensures that their guests receive all the facilities.
Homestays are far more affordable. The major problem with five-star hotels is that they charge fancy prices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The room rate may be Rs8,000-Rs10,000 per night. But if you have your meals in the starred hotel the billing adds up to Rs15,000. Five-star hotels depend on guests spending in the hotel to compensate for the loss they many incur on tariff. Homestays are registered with the Tourism Department and they are now becoming increasingly popular because of the five-star hotel restrictions.

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