Opposition roasts Modi govt over release of Bilkis Bano case convicts

'Does PM not mean what he says? Or is it that his own party, its govts have stopped listening to him? Or does he say one thing to country and another to his govt?” Congress leader Pawan Khera said

Indian National Congress flag
Indian National Congress flag

Ashlin Mathew

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation for the ninth time on the occasion of Independence Day, underscored that respect for women was an important pillar of India's growth. He urged people to take a pledge to get rid of everything that humiliates women in everyday life.

As it turned out, the Gujarat government, on August 15, released 11 people convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case which transpired during the 2002 Gujarat riots within hours of his speech. This led to several Opposition parties slamming the BJP government for its 'duplicity'.

As expected, no one in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party spoke up against the release of the rapists, but neither did Aam Aadmi Party, which came to power riding on the protests against the December 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case and the India Against Corruption movement. Samajwadi Party has also maintained a studied silence on the issue.

The country's main Opposition party, the Congress, called the Gujarat government order “unprecedented” and questioned if this was the spirit behind “Amrit Mahotsav”.

“If we just consider the nature of the crime, does rape not come in the category that the harshest punishment be given, that any sentence is not enough? And we saw today that those who were let off, they are being felicitated and honoured. Is this Amrit Mahotsav?” asked the Congress.

Chairman of the Congress’ Media and Publicity Department Pawan Khera asked PM Modi to come forward and clarify if what he said in his Red Fort speech were just words, with no meaning.

“Does the PM not mean what he says? Or is it that his own party, its governments have stopped listening to him? Or does he say one thing to the country and another to his own party’s government?” added Khera.

Referring to the Kathua and Unnao rape cases, he added that it embarrasses everyone in politics when office-bearers and supporters of a national political party are seen taking out a rally in favour of rapists on the streets.

Former Congress president and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Those who raped a 5-month pregnant woman and killed her 3-year-old girl were released during the ‘Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav’. What is the message giving to the women of the country who are talking about women power? Prime Minister, the whole country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds”.

Senior Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram pointed out that the review panel included two Gujarat BJP MLAs, CK Raolji and Suman Chauhan. Another member of the review panel, Murli Mulchandani, had been a key witness for the prosecution in the Godhra train burning case. The district collector was the chairperson of the review panel.

Almost all the other Opposition parties - the RJD, AIMIM, CPM, TMC and BSP - criticised the BJP government’s decision.

AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted: “This is BJP’s version of AZADI KA AMRIT. People who are GUILTY of a heinous crime have been given freedom. BJP’s bias for a religion is such that even brutal rape & hate crimes are forgivable.”

Slamming the BJP government, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) spokesperson Ejaz Ahmad said, “PM Modi today made tall statements on Nari Samman to prohibit insult to the womenfolk... but hours later, the Gujarat government has allowed convicts of Bilkis Bano gang rape case to go scot-free. This is unfortunate that PM on one hand spoke something, diagonally opposite was being done by the Gujarat government... how will the BJP talk about women empowerment.”

Condemning the Gujarat government’s decision, CPI(M) tweeted, “This is the real face of New India — convicted killers and rapists released. Activist Teesta who fought for justice was jailed.”

Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale said Bilkis Bano was “raped in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and her entire family was murdered and buried in a mass grave”.

“Gujarat govt has now released all 11 monsters who were convicted of this heinous crime. Where’s the outrage by people & the Noida media? Not even a whimper,” he tweeted.

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