Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today told Prime Minister Narendra Modi "the whole country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds", on the release of 11 life-term convicts in the rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
"Those who raped a 5-month pregnant woman and killed her 3-year-old daughter were released during 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav'," Mr Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
5 महीने की गर्भवती महिला से बलात्कार और उनकी 3 साल की बच्ची की हत्या करने वालों को 'आज़ादी के अमृत महोत्सव' के दौरान रिहा किया गया।— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 17, 2022
नारी शक्ति की झूठी बातें करने वाले देश की महिलाओं को क्या संदेश दे रहे हैं?
प्रधानमंत्री जी, पूरा देश आपकी कथनी और करनी में अंतर देख रहा है।
"What is the message going out to the women of the country, from those speaking of women empowerment," he asked, referring to PM Modi's Independence Day speech. PM Modi, in the speech from Red Fort, had spoken of "naari shakti" and said we must "not do anything that lowers the dignity of women".
Other Congress MPs and spokespersons have attacked the PM using the same argument, as have other Opposition parties.
The Gujarat government has defended its decision to release the 11 men, saying it considered the release plea as per a 1992 policy, as directed by the Supreme Court, because that was in effect at the time of the conviction in 2008.
A later policy (2014) of the state, and another recent one by the Centre — both governments run by the BJP — say convicts in such heinous crimes should not be released. "But the 1992 policy, which applied here, did not have such an exception," Gujarat Home Secretary Raj Kumar has said, citing a technicality.
Brazenly shameless. Do you really think the Gujarat Govt did the early release without knowledge & approval of PM and HM? https://t.co/2ZFvv3bEbo— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 17, 2022
The BJP hasn't reacted to the allegations of hypocrisy in how it views rapists, who are also murderers in this case.
Earlier today, Telangana minister minister KT Rama Rao ('KTR') also asked PM if he "really meant" what he said on "respecting women" in his August 15 speech. If he meant it, said KTR in his tweet, "I urge you to intervene and rescind the Gujarat government remission order."
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old when she was raped and seven of her family members murdered, in Dahod district on March 3, 2002. They were hiding in fields to escape the violence after the burning of a train coach that killed 59 'kar sevaks' just days earlier.
Narendra Modi was Gujarat's chief minister at the time.
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 Bilkis Bano Rs 50 lakh as compensation, besides a house and a job.
Three years on, the convicts have walked out, greeted with sweets outside the Godhra jail.
"I feel glad to be out," said Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea paved the way for the release, "I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life."
Bilkis Bano is in shock, according to her lawyer. Her husband Yakub Rasul said the family did not know how the release came about: "We were not told."
Mr Rasul said he, his wife Bilkis, and their five sons continue to live without a fixed address.