Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government approved the August release of 11 men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for gang-raping a Muslim woman and murdering members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat religious riots, according to court documents.
The approval letter from India’s home ministry, headed by Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, was uploaded on social media by legal site The Leaflet, Al Jazeera reported.
The release of the convicts in August and their subsequent felicitation by right-wing activists had caused outrage. But it was not clear at that time if the government in New Delhi approved their release.
Bilkis Bano, who is now in her 40s, was five months pregnant when she was brutally gang-raped in communal violence in 2002 when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat state. Nearly 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in some of the worst religious violence in the country.
According to an affidavit submitted by the Gujarat government in the Supreme Court, the state said its decision to release the convicts was based on them spending 14 years in jail and their ‘good behaviour’ during their time in prison.
The apex court had asked the state government to share documents regarding the remission granted to the rapists following multiple pleas filed against their release.
According to NDTV, quoting court documents, reported that the convicted men were granted stretches of parole and furloughs for more than 1,000 days before they were prematurely released in August.
According to another document posted by The Leaflet, the state government had decided to release the prisoners despite objections from the Central Bureau of Investigation whose chief said that no leniency should be shown and that the crimes were “heinous, grave and serious”.
The 11 men were jailed in 2008 for life in the gang rape and murder case. Fourteen members of Bano’s family were also killed in the violence, including her three-year-old daughter whose head was smashed on the ground by perpetraters in Limkheda, in Gujarat’s Dahod district.
Dozens of protesters took to the streets in Delhi, demonstrating against the release of the convicts, while opposition leaders panned the BJP for undermining the rights of women and harbouring a bias towards Muslims.
The opposition Congress party’s leader Rahul Gandhi accused PM Modi of supporting rapists.
“Talk of respect for women from the ramparts of the Red Fort but in reality support for ‘rapists’,” Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.__Tribune.com