Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday criticised the felicitation of 11 men convicted of rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case, The Indian Express reported.
“A convict is a convict and they cannot be honoured,” Fadnavis said during a discussion in the Maharashtra Legislative Council.
“The convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano case of Gujarat were released following a Supreme Court order,” the deputy chief minister said, according to PTI. “But it was wrong if a person accused of a crime is felicitated and there can be no justification for such an act.”
The 11 convicts who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case were released from a Godhra jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government approved their application 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 andsmashed her head on a rock.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the 2002 riots.
Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar had said that the government considered their remission application as the convicts had served 14 years in jail as well as due to other factors such as “age, nature of the crime, [and] behaviour in prison”.
Their release was based on the recommendation of a panel formed by the Gujarat government under the guidelines of the Supreme Court. Out of the ten members of the panel, five are office bearers in the BJP. Two of them are currently MLAs.
The decision by the Gujarat government was also against the opinion of the Mumbai trial court that had sentenced them to life imprisonment for rape and murder. The trial court had given a “negative opinion” on the remission plea, according to a member of the jail advisory committee.
On Tuesday, the issue of the release of the convicts was raised by the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly during a discussion on the issue of women’s safety.
Fadnavis, however, said there was no reason to raise the Bilkis Bano issue in the House, NDTV reported.