March 24, 2023

NEW DELHI (AP) — Hundreds of people demonstrated Saturday in various parts of India to protest the government’s recent decision to free 11 men sentenced to life in prison for gang-raping a Muslim woman during India’s devastating 2002 religious riots man.

Protesters in the country’s capital, New Delhi, chanted slogans and demanded that the government of the western state of Gujarat reverse the decision. They also sang in solidarity with the victims.

Similar protests were held in several other states.

The 11 men, who were released on probation on August 15 as India celebrated its 75th independence anniversary, were convicted in 2008 of rape, murder and unlawful assembly.

The victim, now in her 40s, said recently that the Gujarat government’s decision had numbed her and shaken her faith in justice.

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual assault.

The victim was pregnant during a brutal gang rape in a 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, when more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslim, died in some of the worst religious riots India has experienced since independence from Britain in 1947. The family of the seven-member woman, including her three-year-old daughter, were also killed in the violence.

“The whole country should get answers directly from the prime minister of this country,” said prominent activist Kavita Krishnan.

Officials in Gujarat state, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, said the criminals’ applications for commutation were approved as they completed more than 14 years in prison. Officials said the men were eligible for a relief policy that took effect in 1992 when they were convicted. An updated version of the federal government’s policy passed in 2014 prohibits the release of reduced sentences for people convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder.

The unrest has long plagued Modi, then Gujarat’s top elected official, with authorities allegedly allowing and even encouraging bloodshed. Modi has repeatedly denied any role, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence against him.

Asiya Qureshi, a young protester in New Delhi, said she participated in the demonstration to bring justice to the victims.

“Modi gave a speech on the safety and protection of women in India on August 15, the same day they released their rapists,” Qureshi said. “How can I be safe in this climate?”

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