Demonstrators in several states protest against release of Hindu men convicted of gang raping a pregnant Muslim woman during 2002 Gujarat state violence.
Hundreds of people have held demonstrations in several parts of India to protest a recent government decision to free 11 Hindu men who had been jailed for life for gang raping a Muslim woman during India's devastating 2002 religious riots.
On Saturday, protesters in the country's capital, New Delhi, chanted slogans and demanded the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled government in the western state of Gujarat rescind the decision. They also sang songs in solidarity with the Muslim victim.
Similar protests were also held in several other states.
The 11 men, released on suspended sentences on August 15 when India celebrated 75 years of independence, were convicted in 2008 of rape, murder and unlawful assembly.
The attackers were greeted by relatives outside the prison who gave them sweets and touched their feet in a traditional Indian sign of respect.
A far-right Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Global Council of Hindus) greeted the convicted rapists with garlands.
Parishad is the cultural arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (or RSS) –– the largest Hindu far-right group in India.
The victim, who is now in her 40s, recently said the decision by the Gujarat state government has left her numb and shaken her faith in justice.
The victim was pregnant when she was brutally gang raped in communal violence in 2002 in Gujarat, which saw over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, killed in some of the worst religious riots India has experienced 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 whole country should demand an answer directly from the prime minister of this country," said Kavita Krishnan, a prominent activist.
Officials in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP holds power, have said that the convicts' application for remission was granted because they had completed over 14 years in jail.
The men were eligible under a 1992 remission policy that was in effect at the time of their conviction, officials said.
A newer version of the policy adopted in 2014 by the federal government prohibits remission release for those convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder.
'How am I safe in such climate?'
The riots have long hounded Modi, who was Gujarat’s top elected official at the time, amid allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed.
The violence was one of India's worst religious riots and more than 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims.
Modi has repeatedly denied having any role and the Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.
Asiya Qureshi, a young protester in New Delhi, said she participated in the demonstrations to seek justice for the victim.
"Modi gave a speech on 15th August on the safety and protection of women of India and the same day they released the rapists," Qureshi said. "How am I safe in such a climate?"
India's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on a petition challenging the convicts' release.