Gujarat: Fearing Safety After Release of Convicts, Many Muslims in Bilkis Bano’s Village Move Out
Dahod: A resident of Randhikpur village in Gujarat's Dahod district where Bilkis Bano was gang raped and seven members of her family killed during the 2002 riots, on Tuesday claimed many Muslims have left the village over the safety concern following the release of the 11 life-term convicts.
Police have increased security in Randhikpur as the men released from the jail hail from a neighbouring village, but ruled out any exodus by villagers.
The 11 convicts were released on August 15 under the Gujarat government's remission policy after serving 15 years in jail in the Bilkis Bano case.
Shahrukh Sheikh, a resident of Randhikpur, said 70 Muslim families are living in fear while many others have moved out and started staying with their relatives and well-wishers in other areas.
"We are scared. Several people have left the village out of fear of violence from the side of the convicts after their release. We have appealed to the collector to put the convicts behind bars and provide safety to the villagers," said Sheikh, who works as a daily wager.
In the memorandum handed over to the Dahod district collector on Monday, villagers spoke about fear saying many residents of Randhikpur are moving out while discontinuing their daily job.
Villagers said they were leaving because they fear for their safety, especially of women. They will not return until the 11 convicts are arrested, the memorandum said.
Police said the convicts, who hail from a village near Randhikpur, are not present in the area but admitted that some villagers have left.
"We have deployed police personnel at fixed points after talking to local people and intensified patrolling after the villagers expressed concern over their safety," said Deputy Superintendent of Police RB Devdha.
He said some villagers have left their homes and gone to live with their relatives in other towns. Police are in touch with the people in Randhikpur and addressing their concerns, the DYSP said.
Dahod superintendent of police Balram Meena said the 11 convicts are natives of Singvad village near Randhikpur but they are not present in the area.
Amid communal riots, Bilkis Bano was gang raped in Randhikpur village and seven members of her family were killed on March 3, 2002.
"The convicts were released on August 15. It is August 23 today. Had there been any exodus we would have known. Additionally, the released convicts themselves are not present in the area. They have gone away. We have not found any reason for local people to fear and flee," said Meena.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider listing a plea challenging the grant of remission by the Gujarat government to the 11 life convicts.
They walked out of the Godhra sub-jail on August 15 after the Gujarat government allowed their release under its remission policy. They had completed more than 15 years in jail.
The investigation in the case was handed over to the CBI and the trial was transferred to a Maharashtra local court by the Supreme Court.
A special CBI court in Mumbai on January 21, 2008, sentenced the 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano's family. Their conviction was later upheld by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court.
Bilkis Bano was 21 years old and five months pregnant when she was gang-raped while fleeing the violence that broke out after the Godhra train burning. Among those killed was her three-year-old daughter.
The state witnessed riots after the Sabarmati Express was attacked in Godhra and 59 passengers, mainly 'kar sevaks', were burnt to death.
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