The Supreme Court dismissed on Monday a petition to block the release of the youngest offender in the December 16 Delhi gang rape, saying he couldn’t be detained any longer under existing laws despite growing calls for harsher penalties for juvenile criminals.
The apex court said it shared the concerns raised by the Delhi Commission of Women but it had to go by the “mandate of the law” which allows his release after a three-year stay in correctional facility – the maximum for an underage criminal.
“You haven’t framed the law but are supporting the petition,” the top court told the DCW. The bench also asked the Centre how it could support such a petition, and said the rights of a convict couldn’t be taken away.
In court, the DCW climbed down from the plea to detain convict for a longer period and said it wanted the SC to constitute an independent body to ascertain his mental condition. But the request was declined as the Delhi high court had already passed similar orders.
The convict, now 20, escaped the gallows as he was months short of his 18th birthday when arrested for the brutal gang rape of a medical student in 2012, an incident that shook the nation and triggered sweeping changes in the country’s rape laws. Four of his co-accused are on death row.
Minutes after the decision, the victim’s mother said she knew the SC wouldn’t block the convict’s release. “We haven’t got any justice. It is very difficult to change laws in India,” she told reporters.
“Women have always been cheated in this country and are still being cheated, even today.”
The decision came after a weekend of protests in the Capital as the police readied to hand over charge of the released convict to an NGO on Sunday where he will be kept till the Delhi government finalises a rehabilitation plan.
The case caused a furore across the country and sparking a raging debate on treating juveniles as adults in case of heinous crimes such as murder and rape. A bill with similar provisions is pending in Parliament.
Swati Maliwal, the DCW chief, also wrote to the Juvenile Justice Board to not free the underage convict as the matter was before the apex court.
But the parents of the victim, who were detained by police on two separate occasions for heading protests at India Gate, said the DCW’s last-minute efforts were a “pretence” and “just for show”.
“We will not stop our fight here. We will now intensify our protest as my daughter has not got justice. Our government, whether Centre or state, they only listen to you when you protest and get lathicharged, else they don’t care,” said the victim’s father.
HT reported on Saturday that the convict was moved out of a correctional facility to an NGO-run shelter on December 9 due to safety concerns. He is now no longer under police protection. His criminal record has also been expunged as per legal provisions and his identity shall not be disclosed.