A Muslim woman who was gang-raped while pregnant during India’s devastating 2002 religious riots has called on the government to reverse its decision to release 11 men who had been jailed for life for committing the crime, after they were released on probation.
The victim, who is now in her 40s, was pregnant when she was brutally gang-raped during 2002 communal violence in the western state of Gujarat that saw more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed in some of the worst religious riots India has seen. since its independence from Britain in 1947. Seven members of the woman’s family, including her three-year-old daughter, were also killed in the violence.
The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault.
The 11 men, released on Monday as India celebrated 75 years of independence, were convicted in 2008 of rape, murder and unlawful assembly.
The victim said the decision by the Gujarat state government left her numb and shook her faith in justice.
“How can justice for a woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our country,” she said in a statement late Wednesday, adding that no authority had contacted her before making the decision. “Please fix this wrong. Give me back my right to live without fear and in peace.”
On Thursday, dozens of women demonstrated against the release of men in the capital, New Delhi. Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women’s Association said she was asking the state to reverse its decision.
“(The victim) and other survivors should be allowed to live in peace and dignity,” Mullah said.
Raj Kumar, additional chief secretary of Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party holds power, told the Indian Express newspaper that the convicts’ request for surrender was granted because they had served more than 14 years from prison. A state government panel made the decision after considering other factors such as their age and behavior in prison.
Kumar said the men were eligible under a 1992 remission policy that was in effect at the time of their sentencing. A newer version passed in 2014 by the federal government prohibits remission of those convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder.
The riots have long plagued Modi, who was Gujarat’s top elected official at the time, amid allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged bloodshed. Modi has repeatedly denied playing a role and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him.
Videos on social media showing the men being greeted with sweets and tinsel after their release from prison have gone viral, sparking outrage and anger from women, rights activists and opposition politicians.
Vrinda Grover, a lawyer, called the decision “a travesty and a serious miscarriage of justice”, in an interview with India Today TV.
Opposition lawmaker Rahul Gandhi took aim at Modi on Twitter, wondering what kind of message he is sending to women in India from a government that says it wants to empower women.
“The whole country sees the difference between your words and your deeds,” he wrote in Hindi.