Ahmedabad, India: Eleven Hindu men sentenced to life imprisonment for the gang rape of a pregnant Muslim woman during the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots have been released on remission; officials on Tuesday condemned the victim’s husband, lawyers and politicians.
The men were convicted in early 2008 and were released from prison at Panchmahal in the western state of Gujarat on Monday, as India celebrated 75 years of the end of British rule.
The Gujarat violence, one of India’s worst religious riots, led to the death of over 1,000 Muslims. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the lead as Chief Minister of Gujarat, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party still rules it.
Panchmahal’s top bureaucrat told Reuters that the District Jail Advisory Committee recommended releasing 11 people after considering their time in jail and good behaviour.
“They had spent close to 15 years in jail and were eligible for remission,” Sujal Jayantibhai Mayatra said. Indian laws allow convicts to seek remission after 14 years in jail.
Media footage showed a man feeding the convicts sweetmeat outside the jail after touching the feet of one of them, a mark of respect. The victim’s husband told Reuters they were disappointed because the riots had also killed many family members.
“We have lost our family and want to live in peace, but suddenly this has happened,” Yakub Rasul said. “We had no prior information about their release, either from the courts or the government. We only learnt about it from the media.”
Opposition politicians and lawyers said the release contradicted the government’s stated policy of uplifting women in a country notorious for violence against them.
“The remission of the sentence of convicts of a gruesome crime like gang rape and murder is morally and ethically improper,” said senior lawyer Anand Yagnik. “What is the signal we are trying to send?”