A day after he and ten others were released from jail in the case related to the gangrape of Bilkis Bano and murder of her family members during the 2002 Gujarat riots, convict 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.
Sentenced to life imprisonment, they were released on Monday under the Gujarat government’s remission policy after completing more than 15 years in jail.
Bilkis Bano case: 11 lifers convicted for Gujarat riots gangrape, murder set free in Godhra; Congress calls BJP govt order ‘unprecedented’ pic.twitter.com/b6bY503sC3
Their reception at the village on Tuesday was muted and there was no visible celebration.
“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.