Video Producer: Naman Shah
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Many Opposition leaders and netizens criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat while reacting to Bilkis Bano's statement on Wednesday, 17 August, regarding the release of 11 men convicted of gang-raping her and murdering 14 members of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, 18 August, said that the "support of criminals shows the petty mentality of BJP towards women."
Stating that the move has taken away her faith from India's justice system, Bano said in her statement, "I trusted the highest courts in our land. I trusted the system, and I was learning slowly to live with my trauma. The release of these convicts has taken from me my peace and shaken my faith in justice."
Her statement came two days after the Gujarat government on 15 August, under its remission policy, approved the early release of 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Unnao – Work to save BJP MLA, Kathua – Rally in support of rapists, Hathras – Government in favour of rapists, Gujarat – Rapists released and respected! Support of criminals shows the petty mentality of BJP towards women. There is no shame on such politics, Prime Minister," Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi said, "Gujarat elections are coming soon, so the convicts of Bilkis Bano case were released for majority. PM Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of the whole country, we request PM Modi to do justice, cancel the order."
All India Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra also quoted a sentence from Bano's statement targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
"How can justice for any woman end like this? Amit Shah? Narendra Modi? India? Indians?" she tweeted.
She also took a dig at "self-righteous TV anchors" who did not do a "panel discussion on Bilkis Bano" case.
'Doesn’t This Trigger You?': Priyanka Chaturvedi
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said that "It is Bilkis Bano today, it could be you tomorrow."
"To all the women who are silent I ask – doesn’t this trigger you? Having faced some kind or form of harassment from creeps who think they will get away, will your silence to convicted criminals being let go not embolden them?" she added.
Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) said that she feels "traumatised" when she thinks about Bilkis Bano’s case. She further demanded the Gujarat government to "roll back it’s decision."
"Bilkis Bano’s case is so horrifying – more I think about it, more traumatised I feel. She was gangraped & her family members were killed. Now convicts are free & being welcomed and celebrated for the rape! If this is not emboldening, what is? Guj Govt must roll back it’s decision!" Maliwal tweeted.
Congress' Supriya Shrinate asked in a tweet in Hindi, "Smriti Irani, does your blood not boil when you see the 11 rapists being released?"
KT Rama Rao, working president of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), said that rapists being garlanded was a "blot on the Collective Conscience of our Nation."
"Rapists being garlanded and treated like war heroes or freedom fighters!!! Remember, what happened to Bilkis Bano today can happen to anyone of us tomorrow. Speak up India," he added.
‘Has Smriti Irani Issued a Statement?’ Ask Netizens
Many Twitter users also reacted to Bano's statement. One such user said that "as a woman and a civil servant I sit in disbelief, on reading the news on the Bilkis Bano Case. We cannot snuff out her Right to breathe free without fear, again and call ourselves a free nation."
Another user targeted Union Minister Smriti Irani, asking whether she has issued a statement regarding the Bilkis Bano case.
"Has Smriti Irani issued a statement regarding the Bilkis Bano case? She is not only the minister of women & child development but also incharge of minority affairs. Hope she rises above petty politics & takes a firm stand in this case," the tweet read.
Another user labelled the move to release the convicts as "politics of appeasement." "Pm speaks about Nari Shakti & on another hand, rape convicts are left free in Gujarat. Isn't it Tushtikaran ki Rajneeti?" the user said.
Another user said that "Those who support or who are silent on free of 11 convicts or rapists must understand that their silence will keep their loved once in jeopardy."