Hundreds in India protest release of gang-rape convict

While the fatal 2012 gang-rape of Nirbhaya has brought attention to India's slack rape and sexual assault laws, the release of the youngest attacker Sunday suggests the country's laws are still inadequate. 

Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Demonstrators shout slogans as police detain others during a protest against the release of a juvenile rape convict, in New Delhi, India, December 20, 2015. The youngest of six people convicted of the 2012 gang rape of a woman, in a case that shocked India, was freed on Sunday, a lawyer said, after a court refused to extend his three-year sentence. The case turned a global spotlight on the treatment of women in India, where police say a rape is reported every 20 minutes, and the sentence sparked debate over whether the country is too soft on young offenders.

The youngest convict from the fatal 2012 gang rape in New Delhi, India has been released Sunday after fulfilling his three-year sentence in a reform home. 

Twenty-three-year-old Nirbhaya, the victim’s name to the media, was traveling home from seeing a movie with a male friend on Dec. 16, 2012 when she was raped by six other men on the bus. She died in a hospital two weeks later from what doctors say were injuries sustained during the attack. 

Four of the other attackers were convicted of rape and murder and are currently appealing their death sentences. The fifth attacker died in prison. The sixth attacker, who was 17 at the time of the murder, was tried as a juvenile and received the maximum sentence allowed under law. State law also grants the youngest convict anonymity, which is why he is referred in the media only as “the juvenile.”   

“The court is no doubt concerned by what has happened and the seriousness of the offense, but the court is also helpless because they have to stay within the confines of the act and the rules and the law,” Anil Soni, a government lawyer, told CNN. 

Nirbhaya’s death has been a uniting force for protesters who see the country’s sentencing laws for rape and sexual assault as unacceptably lenient.

Immediately after Nirbhaya’s death, public protests pressured India’s government to double the prison sentences for rapists, from 10 to 20 years, and officially criminalize stalking and trafficking of women. And while Nirbhaya’s attack has brought attention and some action to what critics see as India’s mild punishments for rape and sexual assault, protesters say the juvenile’s three-year stint in a juvenile home suggests India’s chaotic justice system stands to improve. 

“Even after all our efforts, the juvenile convict will now be released,” Nirbhaya’s mother said outside the courthouse. “What message is this sending out to the public of the country? All I wanted was justice but crime has won today. There is politics in the country and us innocent people are always sacrificed.” 

After the gang rape, a bill was introduced in parliament to extend the maximum three-year sentence for juveniles in especially heinous crimes. The bill failed. 

“Our legal system should be strong enough to make us feel safe,” Dolly Kaushik, a law student interning at India's high court in Delhi, told CNN. “Nothing has changed.”

Protesters and sympathetic lawmakers asked the court to issue a stay for continued custody of the juvenile, but the high court said no, finding no legal ground in Indian law. 

The now-20-year-old rapist, who was suggested to be one of the most brutal of the attackers, has been moved outside of Dehli to an undisclosed location because of threats to his life. The government has said they will give the juvenile 10,000 rupees and a sewing machine so he can begin a career as a tailor. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters, including Nirbhaya’s parents, at gathered at India Gate Sunday afternoon to oppose the release but they were detained by the police.  

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