On Saturday, 25 March, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Gujarat's Dahod, Jaswantsinh Bhabhor, was seen sharing stage with Shailesh Bhatt, who is one of the 11 convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder case.
Photos of the two posing from the launch of a group water supply scheme in the Dahod were shared on Twitter by MP Jaswantsinh and party MLA from Limkheda, Shaileshbhai Bhabhor, who was also present at the event.
Bilkis Bano's husband Yakub Rasool confirmed to The Quint that the man in the photo is Bhatt who, along with 10 others, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 case.
Among other functionaries in attendance at the event were Singvad Taluka Panchayat pramukh Kantaben Damor, and Dahod district panchayat up-pramukh Ratan Bhai.
The Quint has reached out to Jaswatsinh Bhabhor and Shailesh Bhabhor regarding their presence at the event and is yet to receive a response.
Bhatt and 10 other men convicted of gang raping Bilkis Bano, and killing 14 members of her family – including her three-year-old daughter – during the Gujarat riots of 2002, were released from a sub-jail in Godhra on 15 August 2022 under the state government's remission policy.
Speaking to The Quint, Bano's husband Yakub Rasool said that he is not surprised by the photos. "These people (convicts) were felicitated the moment they stepped out of the jail. We are not surprised to see them share stage with those in power. Our only hope for justice is the Supreme Court now," he said.
Following the release of the convicts, Bano filed a petition seeking review of the Supreme Court's May 2022 order which said that the Gujarat government was the appropriate authority to grant remission to the convicts.
The review petition was dismissed by the top court in December 2022.
On 24 March, however, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said that a special bench would be constituted to hear the petition. The matter has been listed after being mentioned five times before the Supreme Court of India by Bano's lawyer Shobha Gupta.
The plea has been listed before the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna for hearing on 27 March.