On India's 75th Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged every Indian to respect women. PM Modi who was speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi said that a distortion had crept in societal conduct toward women.
Shockingly, just a day after the PM's call to end misogyny in the society, the Gujarat government released 11 convicts who were serving time for raping a pregnant Bilkis Bano in 2002.
Modi had said, "Our behaviour toward women have been distorted. We at times insult our women. I have one request for every Indian. Can we change the mentality towards our women in everyday life. Pride of Nari Shakti will play a vital role in fulfilling the dreams of India. Respect for women is an important pillar for India's growth. We need to support our Nari Shakti."
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old — five months pregnant — when she was raped and her toddler daughter killed along with six others from the family on March 3, 2002. They were hiding in fields near Ahmedabad, hoping to escape the violence that erupted after the burning of a Sabarmati Express coach that killed 59 'kar sevaks' just days earlier.
Why were the 11 accused acquitted?
In 2008, a special court in Mumbai sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment. It was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
In 2019, the Supreme Court even directed the Gujarat government to give her ₹ 50 lakh as compensation, besides a house and a job. Three years on, the convicts are free.
The release came after one of the convicts went to the court earlier this year, pleading for premature release under the Code of Criminal Procedure, as he had served about 15 years. The Supreme Court said a decision can be taken by the Gujarat government as per its 1992 policy, which was in place at the time of the conviction.
The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radhesham Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.
Centre's guidelines not followed?
Earlier in June, the Union Government had also issued guidelines for states on prisoner release policy which clearly stated that rape convicts and those convicted for life were not eligible for special release.
In June this year, proposing a special release policy for convicted prisoners to mark 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' (75 years of Independence), the Centre issued guidelines to states. Rape convicts are listed among those who are not to be granted release under this policy.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi over their release.
"In his Independence Day speech, Modi had asked Indians to take a pledge not to do anything that lowers the dignity of women. He said something about supporting "Nari Shakti". Gujarat BJP govt released criminals convicted of gang rape on the same day. The message is clear," Owaisi tweeted.
Kavita Krishnan, Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation leader, wrote, "On Independence Day 2022 when PM Modi was giving a speech asking us to respect women, support “Nari Shakti”, Gujarat CM was releasing 11 convicted gang-rapists of Bilkis Bano on remission. Can Narendra Modi tell us, is Bilkis not part of your “Nari Shakti” because she’s Muslim?"
Dr Shama Mohammed of Indian National Congress wrote, "All 11 life imprisonment convicts in 2002 Bilkis Bano gang rape case walk out of Godhra jail under Gujarat govt's remission policy. The BJP govt is using state machinery not to protect women, but to free rapists. What message is this sending? Is this Beti Bachao Beti Padhao!"
KT Rama Rao, Minister of Municipal Administration and Urban Development of Telangana, tweeted, "Bhashan: “Respect Women”; Kaam: Release 11 Rapists using Gujarat Govt’s power of remission on the same day Home state of PM leading by example."
Journalist Rana Ayyub also wrote, "In his independence day speech today, Narendra Modi spoke about empowering women. This evening, the men who brutally gangraped Bilkis Bano during the anti-Muslim Gujarat carnage have walked free. Happy 75 India."