The eleven men sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang rape case walked out of the Godhra sub-jail after the government of Gujarat approved their release under its remission policy on Monday, 15 August.
"A committee formed a few months back took a unanimous decision in favour of remission of all the 11 convicts in the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday we received the orders for their release," said Sujal Mayatra, Panchmahals Collector, who was presiding over the panel, as per PTI.
Visuals of them walking free surfaced on social media on Tuesday, which showed them being felicitated, as locals touched their feet, offered them sweets, and conducted a tilak ceremony.
On 21 January 2008, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai sentenced the accused to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family.
The mob had gang-raped Bano while she was pregnant in March 2002, and killed seven members of her family, including her three-year-old daughter, amidst the Godhra riots.
'Using State Machinery To Free Rapists': Congress, Others React
Reacting to the news, Congress spokesperson Dr Shama Mohamed took to Twitter to say, "The BJP government is using state machinery not to protect women, but to free rapists. What message is this sending? Is this Beti Bachao Beti Padhao!"
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Shamshad Pathan also asserted that many, convicted of less heinous crimes, continue to languish in jails without any remission.
He added that such a decision leads survivors to lose hope in the system of criminal justice.
Congress leader Manish Tewari echoed these concerns, and called for a uniformity in the definition of remission policy.
The Social Democratic Party of India, in a statement, condemned the move, calling it "shocking" and an example of "complete injustice."
Approaching Supreme Court
The 11 convicts who were granted premature release are Jaswantbhai Nai, Govindbhai Nai, Shailesh Bhatt, Radheshyam Shah, Bipin Chandra Joshi, Kesarbhai Vohania, Pradeep Mordhiya, Bakabhai Vohania, Rajubhai Soni, Mitesh Bhatt, and Ramesh Chandana.
After serving 15 years of his sentence, Radheshyam Shah approached the Supreme Court seeking remission of the sentence and his premature release.
The apex court, in its order, dated 13 May 2022, added that since the crime was committed in Gujarat, the state of Gujarat was the appropriate government to examine Shah's application.
"When a government takes such a decision, the hope of the victim in the system diminishes. Even when the Supreme Court directed the Gujarat government to consider their remission, it should have considered against the remission rather than allowing it," Pathan was further quoted as saying.
(With inputs from PTI.)