Eleven Hindu men jailed for life for the gang-rape of a pregnant Muslim woman during Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 have been freed on remission, officials said on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from the victim’s widower, lawyers and politicians.
The men were convicted in early 2008 and released from jail in Panchmahals in the western state of Gujarat on Monday, when India celebrated 75 years since the end of British rule.
The Gujarat violence, one of India’s worst religious riots, led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. Gujarat was then led by current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as chief minister, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party still rules it.
Panchmahals’ top bureaucrat told Reuters that the district jail advisory committee had recommended the release after considering the time the 11 had spent in jail and their good behavior.
“The fact is 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, officials said.
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 widower of the victim 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?”