'Women will not feel safe by PM Modi's empty words on empowerment': Gehlot, Congress attack PM Modi

All the 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder of seven members of her family walked out of Godhra sub-jail on Monday.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (Photo | PTI)
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (Photo | PTI)

AHMEDABAD: Women will not feel safe by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "empty words" on their empowerment, senior Congress leader Amee Yagnik said on Wednesday targetting the Gujarat government over the premature release of 11 life-term convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case.

All the 11 convicts serving a life sentence for the post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape and murder of seven members of her family walked out of Godhra sub-jail on Monday after the state government allowed their release under its remission policy.

"The release of the convicts serving a life sentence for raping a woman and killing seven members of her family in PM Modi's home state shows how diametrically opposite the prime minister's words and deeds are," alleged Yagnik, a Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat.

"Women will never feel safe with such empty words on their empowerment. Until a woman feels safe, she cannot progress. First and foremost, a woman needs safety, justice, and a promise from the government that it has foolproof plans in place," Yagnik told reporters.

She questioned whether the Centre has such concrete plans to achieve women's empowerment and dignity whereas the prime minister used "empty words" from the ramparts of Red Fort on the occasion of the 76th Independence Day.

"On the one hand there are talks of women empowerment, and on the other hand, this happens (the release of convicts in gang rape and murder case). It shows the difference between the PM's words and deeds," she said.

Yagnik alleged the way the 11 convicts were released and received with garlands and sweets shows that the prime minister believes only in talking and doing nothing about women's empowerment and dignity.

Gujarat Pradesh Mahila Congress president Jenny Thummar said the state government should have decided against releasing the 11 convicts though the Supreme Court had directed it to consider their release.

"Not a single woman feels safe in Gujarat and the government's claims have proved to be false. There is a huge difference between what BJP says and does. Women's situation in Gujarat has not changed. Women continue to feel unsafe as per the state government's data," she claimed.

Thummar said a total of 3,796 cases of rape, 61 cases of gang rape, and 8,028 crimes related to atrocities against women were registered in two years in Gujarat as per the data shared in the state Legislative Assembly.

In his Independence Day address, PM Modi urged people to take a pledge not to do anything that lowers the dignity of women, adding that a mentality to insult them in speeches and behaviour has crept in.

PM Modi said respect for women is an important pillar of India's growth and stressed the need to extend support to 'Nari Shakti.

Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot on Wednesday lashed out at the BJP over the early release of all the 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 Gujarat riots and claimed democracy was in "danger" under the saffron party and the Constitution has been violated in several other instances too.

Gehlot, who is on a two-day Gujarat visit, questioned the timing of the release of these 11 convicts on August 15, when the country was celebrating 75 years of Independence.

"This (Bilkis Bano) is not the only case. There are many such instances which took place in the country wherein the BJP has violated the Constitution. Our democracy is in danger under the BJP," the Congress observer for the Gujarat Assembly elections told reporters here when asked about the release of the convicts who were serving a life sentence.

"Bilkis Bano's case (release of convicts) reflects that ideology (of BJP). Otherwise, what was the logic of releasing these convicts on August 15?" asked Gehlot.

During his visit to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state, the Rajasthan Chief Minister will hold meetings with Gujarat Congress leaders about their preparedness for the Assembly polls due by the year-end.

He started his Gujarat tour from Vadodara by holding a meeting with party leaders from the central Gujarat zone.

On August 15, all the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 post-Godhra Bilkis Bano gang rape case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail after the BJP government in Gujarat allowed their release under its remission policy.

A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of Bilkis Bano's gang rape and murder of seven of her family members during the communal riots triggered by the torching of a coach of Sabarmati Express by a mob near Godhra station on February 27, 2002.

Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

These convicts had served more than 15 years in jail after which one of them approached the Supreme Court with a plea for his premature release.

The apex court had directed the Gujarat government to look into the issue of remission of his sentence following which the government formed a committee.

Later, the state government decided on the early release of all the convicts in the case.

However, Opposition parties have slammed the BJP over the release of the convicts, saying the move was in violation of the Centre's guidelines.

The opposition party asked what action the prime minister would take against the Gujarat chief minister if the Centre's concurrence had not been sought.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the entire country is seeing the difference between the prime minister's words and deeds.

The party alleged that the Gujarat government flouted rules while releasing the convicts serving life imprisonment for rape and murder in the 2002 Gujarat riots case and demanded answers from the prime minister and Home Minister Amit Shah on whether the decision had the Centre's concurrence.

Congress spokesperson and head of media department Pawan Khera told reporters that in cases investigated by central agencies like the CBI, the law binds the state to take concurrence of the Centre before giving any such remission of its own.

He also asked if it was shared with the court.

"We demand an answer from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on whether the Gujarat government had sought the Centre's concurrence before giving remission to the convicts in Bilkis Bano cape case," he told reporters.

Seeking answers, Khera said if the Gujarat government had taken your concurrence before granting remission, the prime minister's words would ring hollow.

"What action will the prime minister take against the BJP government of Gujarat? We also want to know from Gujarat who were the members of the jail advisory panel who recommended remission," he asked, alleging that two of the members on the panel are BJP MLAs.

He also asked why some sections of the Opposition were "silent" on the injustice and exhorted them to come together on the issue.

"Why parties that entered politics making 'Nirbhaya' the base are silent today? Do they only exist to garner votes," he asked while making an oblique reference to AAP.

"Why are we silent as a society? We also want to ask why the media is silent, the same media that in one voice sought strong laws after the rape of Nirbhaya.

"If we do not ask these questions now, our society will stink and the world will feel the stench. If we do not ask these questions today there will be no tomorrow for this country," he said.

The Congress asked whether it was possible for the Gujarat government to approve the early release of the convicts without the knowledge and approval of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah.

Khera claimed that the 1992 policy under which the Gujarat government granted remission was done away with on May 8, 2013, by Modi who was then the chief minister of Gujarat.

He said that under the Centre's policy of 2014, persons convicted under cases of rape and murder cannot be granted remission.

He termed the claim of the Gujarat government that remission was granted based on the orders of the SC as "misleading".

The Supreme Court had directed Gujarat to dispose of the matter in three months and had not directed the state government to grant them this remission, he said.

"This is not a judicial order, but an executive one," Khera said.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attacked the prime minister, saying women are asking if respect for them is "only in speeches".

The BJP government in Gujarat released all the 11 people convicted for the rape of a pregnant Bilkis Bano and murder of seven of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots, under its remission policy.

"Those who raped a five-month pregnant woman and killed her three-year-old daughter were released during 'Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav'.

What message is being given to the women of the country by those who peddle lies about 'Nari Shakti'?" Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi.

"Prime Minister ji, the entire country is seeing the difference between your words and deeds," he said.

Priyanka Gandhi asked if the release of the criminals by the BJP government and the welcome extended to them in front of the camera is not the height of injustice and insensitivity.

"Narendra Modi ji, respect for women only in speeches? Women are asking," she said.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh tagged a tweet by party colleague Khera in which he shared that the latest guidelines issued by the Home Ministry on early release of prisoners mention rape and murder convicts cannot be released out of turn by the prison administration.

"Brazenly shameless. Do you really think the Gujarat Govt did the early release without knowledge and approval of PM and HM?" he tweeted.

Opposition parties on Tuesday had hit out at Prime Minister Modi over the release of the 11 convicts within hours of his praise for "Nari Shakti" in his Independence Day speech and said this is the "real face" of New India under the BJP.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, had sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gangrape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court.

Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat then, has been persistently attacked by the Opposition over the 2002 riots which had left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead.

The riots had erupted after the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 'karsevaks' were killed.

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