Ahmedabad: The release of 11 life convicts in the horrifying Bilkis Bano gangrape and mass murder case has caused a huge embarrassment to the BJP, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 82-minute Independence Day address, exhorting the nation to “protect women’s dignity in all circumstances”.
On August 15, 2022, images and videos of the released convicts being offered sweets outside Godhra Sub-Jail by local BJP and Sangh Parivar workers went viral and added to the shock value. The convicts subsequently went to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office in Godhra, where they were felicitated.
Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul said that he found out about the release through the media. “We were surprised to hear this shocking news. We just don’t know when the convicts moved and processed their application and which ruling the government took cognisance of to decide this. We were not given any kind of notice either,” he said.
The Gujarat government’s decision also evoked strong reactions from the Congress party and the AIMIM. Even lawyers, human rights defenders and women’s organisations have come down heavily on the government.
In a video statement, the Congress party’s national chief spokesperson Pawan Khera said, “On the one hand, the Prime Minister was advising the country from the historic Red Fort that women’s dignity should be respected and protected, and on the other, his government in Gujarat has released 11 people convicted for rape! The Supreme Court itself had ordered a compensation of Rs 50 lakh. So, who is correct, the Prime Minister or the Gujarat Government? Obviously, both can’t be true at the same time.”
Tweeting against the decision, AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi ridiculed the PM in strong words. He said the Prime Minister had asked the country not to do anything that belittled the dignity of women. “He said something about supporting ‘Nari Shakti’. The Gujarat BJP government released criminals convicted of gang rape on the same day. The message is clear,” the AIMIM chief tweeted.
Later at a press conference, Owaisi asserted, “We condemn this. The country is watching how the BJP gives only lip service to women’s empowerment and respect for women. But when it comes to Muslim women, they forget them.”
“They should then also release those who are in jail for the Godhra train burning incident. Rubina Memon who has been in jail for 17 years, despite the vehicle (which was allegedly used in the train burning incident) not being in her name. Those who are in jail for the Vadodara serial blasts. But you (BJP) are biased toward only one community. This is the reality of the BJP,” Owaisi asserted.
In a statement, women’s rights organisation, the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), condemned the release of the convicts and asserted that the decision to free Bilkis Bano’s rapists emboldens such men and their followers to act on their threats.
“The conviction of communal killers and rapists is after all an aberration in India, not the rule. Does the remission intend to restore the rule of impunity for communal killers and rapists?” the AIPWA asked.
On March 3, 2002, a huge violent crowd carrying a variety of sharp weapons swooped down on the Randhikpur village in central Gujarat’s Dahod district. They first raped Bilkis Bano’s mother, her two sisters and killed Bilkis’ three-year-old daughter Saleha by smashing her head on the ground.
Bilkis had told this reporter on the very day she was brought to a relief camp in Godhra that she was 21 and five months pregnant. She had recounted how the marauders killed 14 people and she survived by pretending to be dead, and lost consciousness thereafter.
It was after a 17-year-long battle that the Supreme Court in 2019 awarded a Rs 50 lakh compensation to Bilkis. This turned out to be the first such court directive in the Godhra and post-Godhra riots case.