A day after 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment for Bilkis Bano’s gang rape and murder of seven of her family during the 2002 Gujarat riots walked out of jail, one of them — Shailesh Bhatt — claimed that they were “victims of politics.”
Bhatt, 63, who said he was a local functionary of the ruling BJP when he was arrested, and others including his brother and co-convict Mitesh left for their village Singor in Gujarat’s Dahod district after walking out of the Godhra jail.
“Singor is a small village. All the convicts belong to this village. We were all victims of politics,” said Shailesh Bhatt, speaking to reporters. He was a farmer and also an office-bearer of the district unit of the BJP while his brother worked as a clerk at Panchmahals Dairy when they were arrested, he said.
“We were arrested in 2004 and remained in jail for more than 18 years. It feels good to be home with my family members. Everybody is happy that we are back. My son was eight or nine years old then, now he is an adult and works with Panchmahal Dairy. I am happy for him,” Bhatt added.
His mother died when he was in jail in 2007. The court had granted him interim bail to perform her last rites, he said.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was raped while fleeing the violence that broke out in the aftermath of the Sabarmati Express train burning incident at Godhra in 2002. Seven members of her family were murdered.
Radheshyam Shah, another convict, had asserted after his release on Monday that they were all innocent. “We were framed up because of our belief in certain ideology,” he had claimed before the media. One of them died during the trial while a couple of others lost their wives during their incarceration, he said.
Radheshyam Shah, the convict whose plea for premature release paved the way for all the 11 life sentence convicts to walk out of jail, said he feels happy to be released. “The Gujarat government has released us as per the order of the Supreme Court. I feel glad to be out as I will be able to meet my family members and begin a new life,” he said.
“We were convicted and lodged in jail. When I was not released after completing 14 years in jail, I approached the Supreme Court for remission. The apex court directed the Gujarat government to take a decision, after which we were released,” he said.