NEW DELHI — Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the heart of the Indian capital on Sunday to protest the release of the man who as a juvenile was convicted of raping a young woman in a moving bus three years ago.
“In spite of all our efforts, the juvenile is free today,” said Badrinath Singh, the victim’s father, leading the protests. “I regret it deeply.” The crowd of protesters shouted, “Shame, shame.”
The rapist’s release, he said, was a threat to women’s safety across the country.
Asha Singh, the victim’s mother, said: “The government has all the powers in its hands: They can stop his release. They can change laws,” adding, “As a mother, I feel quite helpless today.”
Students held placards saying: “No exceptions, no excuses, hang the rapists” and “We have no faith in the judiciary.” Another sign said: “Incredible India. If you are 18, come, rape and walk away.”
Some protesters said they also had demonstrated on the streets three years ago.
“When so many thousands of us came here three years ago, we thought things would change,” said a 21-year-old college student who gave her name as Bhavna. “But we are back here shouting the same slogans for speedy and strong punishment for the rapists today.”
The gang rape and fatal assault of the young paramedical student in a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012 had sparked unprecedented nationwide protests against rising sexual assaults on women and had pushed India to enact a tough rape law.
The rapist, who was a few months shy of turning 18 at the time of the crime, was convicted in 2013 and sent to a correctional facility for three years, the maximum detention permitted for juveniles under the country's law.
On Friday, the Delhi high court refused to extend the juvenile’s stay in the correctional home beyond three years.
The youth was among six males who brutally gang-raped the 23-year-old woman and threw her out of the bus. The victim died of her severe injuries a few days later. Of the other five men who were sent to jail, one man hanged himself in his cell in 2013. The other four were sentenced to death. They have appealed the verdicts.
But the case of the juvenile rapist, who is now 20, has led many Indians to question whether the law has let him get away too easily because of his age.
After the gang rape, some demanded that the legal age of a juvenile be reduced from 18 to 16. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced a bill in Parliament that seeks to try juveniles accused of committing brutal crimes such as rape and murder as adults. The lower house has cleared the legislation, but the bill is stuck in the upper chamber.
About midnight Saturday, the Delhi Commission for Women appealed to the Supreme Court and called for an urgent hearing of its petition against the 20-year-old’s release, saying his psychological well-being had not been conclusively proven. On Monday, the court will conduct a hearing on the matter.
Maneka Gandhi, India’s minister for women and child development, said last week that a national sex-offender registry must be maintained so that police can track such criminals.
Crimes committed by juveniles have jumped more than 50 percent between 2005 and 2014, the government informed Parliament on Tuesday. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of rapes committed by juveniles rose from 399 in 2001 to 1,388 in 2013.