The release of the 11 men convicted in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case showed the mindset of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said on Tuesday, PTI reported.

The life-term convicts were released from a Godhra jail on Monday after the Gujarat government approved their application to reduce their sentences under its remission policy.

Bilkis Bano was gangraped on March 3, 2002, during the riots in Gujarat. She was 19 and pregnant at the time. Fourteen members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, were murdered by the rioters near Ahmedabad. One of the men snatched the girl from her mother’s arms and smashed her head on a rock.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots.

“Yesterday, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister spoke big things about women’s safety, women’s power, women’s respect,” Khera said at a press conference on Tuesday. “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?”

The Congress spokesperson questioned Modi whether the prime minister himself believed on what he said in his Independence Day speech.

“Who is the real Narendra Modi?” Khera asked. “The one who serves up lies from the ramparts of the Red Fort, or the ones who gets the Gujarat government to release rape convicts? The country wants to know this.”

Bilkis Bano’s husband Yakub Rasul said that the family did not wish to comment on the release of the convicts as of now, NDTV reported. “We were not told about this,” he said. “... All we want to do is pray for peace of the souls of our near and dear ones who lost their lives in the riots.”

Centre’s guidelines vs Gujarat government policy

In June, the Centre had written to the states and Union Territories detailing the process by which prisoners could be selected for special remission, under which they would be released on Independence Day.

However, Section 5 (vi) of the guidelines on granting such special remission states that such a relaxation cannot be given to those convicted of rape, among other crimes. Section 5 (ii) of the guidelines also states that special remission should not be granted to those sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, in April, the Supreme Court held that in the Bilkis Bano case, the Gujarat government’s premature release policy from July 1992 should be adhered to, as that was the one applicable on the date of conviction.

Also read: Explainer: How the 11 life convicts in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case won early release

‘Victims of politics,’ say convicted men

The eleven men who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case were “victims of politics”, Shailesh Bhatt, one of the convicts, said on Tuesday, according to PTI.

“We were arrested in 2004 and remained in jail for more than 18 years,” he said. “It feels good to be home with my family members. Everybody is happy that we are back.”

Another convict, Radheshyam Shah, also claimed that all the eleven men were innocent. “We were framed up because of our belief in certain ideology,” he claimed.