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New India? Opposition slams PM Modi over release of Bilkis Bano case convicts

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New Delhi, Aug 16: Opposition parties on Tuesday launched a scathing attack at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the release of 11 people convicted for rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of 2002 Gujarat riots within hours of his praise for "Nari Shakti" in the Independence Day speech and alleged that this is the "real face" of ''New India" under the BJP.

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They said the remission for the convicts, serving life imprisonment for the gang rape of a pregnant Bilkis Bano and murder of seven of her family members, was a violation of the Centre's guidelines and demanded withdrawal of the order.

The convicts, who were also charged with killing the pregnant Muslim woman's three-year-old daughter, were welcomed with sweets and garlands outside the jail on Monday.

Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said Prime Minister Modi should tell the country if he himself believed in his words when he spoke about the safety, respect and empowerment of women.

"The BJP government in Gujarat released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang rape case. This decision brings out the BJP government's mindset," he told reporters.

He also referred to the Kathua and Unnao cases and said it embarrasses everyone in politics when office-bearers and supporters of a national political party are seen taking out a rally in favour of rapists on the streets.

"Yesterday, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the prime minister spoke big things about women's safety, women's power, women's respect. 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," Khera said.

"The Congress asks the prime minister to tell the country that what he said from the ramparts of the Red Fort were merely words, as he himself did not believe in his words. "Who is the real Narendra Modi? The one who serves falsehood from the ramparts of the Red Fort or the one who gets his Gujarat government to release those behind rape. This Congress party and the country want to know," the Congress leader asked.

In a tweet, the CPI(M) also strongly condemned the release of the convicts, saying "this is the real face of New India -- convicted killers and rapists released" and activist Teesta Setalvad "who fought for justice was jailed".

Trinamool Congress spokesperson Saket Gokhale said Bilkis Bano was "raped in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and her entire family was murdered and buried in a mass grave".

"Gujarat govt has now released all 11 monsters who were convicted of this heinous crime. Where's the outrage by people & the Noida media? Not even a whimper," he tweeted.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi also targeted Prime Minister Modi over their release. In his Independence Day speech, Modi had asked Indians to take a pledge not to do anything that lowers the dignity of women, Owaisi said. "He said something about supporting 'Nari Shakti'.

Gujarat BJP govt released criminals convicted of gang rape on the same day. The message is clear," Owaisi tweeted. Bahujan Samaj Party MP Danish Ali also referred to the prime minister's remarks and said the release of 11 convicts has exposed the huge gap between words and the spirit of justice.

"The world is watching but who cares in 'New India'?" he tweeted. CPI(M) politburo member Brinda Karat said that the release of the convicts was a blatant violation of the Centre's guideline excluding those convicted of rape, gang rape and murder from benefits of remission from a full life term imprisonment.

In June this year, proposing a special release policy for convicted prisoners to mark 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' (75 years of Independence), the Centre issued guidelines to states. Rape convicts are listed among those who are not to be granted release under this policy.

She said the Gujarat government's release order is shocking, shameful and condemnable.

"Of what value is the prime minister's statements for women's dignity from the ramparts of the Red Fort when his own party-led government shows such criminal partisanship towards rapists and murderers. The order must be immediately rescinded," she said.

"The murder of a Dalit child for drinking water from an 'upper caste' pot in an RSS-run school in Rajasthan and the release of eleven rape and murder convicts in Gujarat in the Bilkis Bano case tell us that something is truly rotten in the state of India after 75 years of freedom!," said CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder in the Bilkis Bano case of the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. PM Modi, who was at that time the chief minister of Gujarat, has been persistently attacked by the Opposition over the riots which had left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead while 223 more people were reported missing and another 2,500 were injured. The riots had erupted after the Godhra train burning incident in which 59 'karsevaks' were killed.

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