Ahmedabad/New Delhi: The ruling BJP on Tuesday faced the Opposition fire over the release of 11 people convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 post-Godhra riots, while its government in Gujarat defended the move citing a 1992 remission policy and denied any violation of rules in the matter.
While the convicts, sentenced to life imprisonment, walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy, and spoke about starting a new life, Bilkis Bano's husband Yakub Rasul expressed surprise over the relief granted to them.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang raped while fleeing the violence that broke out post the Sabarmati train burning incident in Godhra. Seven members of her family were killed during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
After their release on completion of more than 15 years in jail, the convicts, who were also charged with killing the pregnant woman's three-year-old daughter, were welcomed with sweets and garlands outside the prison.
"We were surprised to know that the convicts have been released," Bilkis Bano's husband Yakub Rasul told PTI.
"We don't know when the convicts processed their application and which ruling the state government took into consideration. We never received any kind of notice," Mr Rasul said.
Mr Rasul said the Gujarat government had paid the family a compensation of ₹ 50 lakh as directed by the Supreme Court, but is yet to provide a job or a house as directed by the top court.
Mr Rasul said he lives virtually in hiding with his wife and five sons, the eldest one 20 years old.
A special CBI court in Mumbai in 2008 sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on the charge of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.
Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea for premature release paved the way for all the 11 life sentence convicts to walk out of jail, said he feels happy to be released.
"The Gujarat government has released us as per the order of the Supreme Court. I feel glad to be out as I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life," he said.
In New Delhi, Opposition parties hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the release of the convicts within hours of his praise for "Nari Shakti" in the Independence Day speech and alleged this is the "real face" of 'New India" under the BJP.
They said the remission for the convicts, serving life imprisonment for the gang rape of a pregnant Bilkis Bano and murder of seven of her family members, was a violation of the Centre's guidelines and demanded the withdrawal of the order.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said Prime Minister Modi should tell the country if he himself believed in his words when he spoke about the safety, respect and empowerment of women.
"The BJP government in Gujarat released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. This decision brings out the BJP government's mindset," he told reporters in the national capital.
"Yesterday, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister spoke big things about women's safety, women's power, women's respect. A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honoured. Is this the Amrit Mahotsav," Mr Khera said.