A man convicted as a juvenile for the 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old woman was freed following the completion of a three-year sentence in a reform home, after protests led by the dead woman's parents and a last-ditch legal bid failed to prevent his release.
The Indian Supreme Court, which received a petition that a women's rights group filed past midnight last Saturday, declined to stay the release but will go ahead with the hearing today.
Yesterday, the Indian authorities freed the man under a cloak of secrecy for his safety, as dozens of protesters joined the woman's parents at the iconic India Gate amid tight police vigilance.
"He has been released but he is in a shelter home because of security reasons. He will stay there for a couple of days," the man's lawyer A.P. Singh told The Straits Times.
"We were initially thinking of taking him to his native village in Badaun, but there was a lot of opposition there," he said. The family of the man, now 20, did not travel to Delhi for his release.
The man, who was 17 at the time of the offence, was among six convicted of the gang rape that took place in a moving bus in Delhi in December 2012. The brutal rape and the woman's subsequent death provoked national and international outrage.
Mr Singh said: "He was distressed in the last three days over talk of his detention continuing. He is fine now. He wants to go out and find a job."
While the youngest convict served his maximum three-year term in a reform home, four of the other five were given the death sentence and are now appealing. The fifth committed suicide.
Spontaneous protests that erupted at India Gate after the gang rape pushed the government to tighten anti-rape laws and introduce the death penalty for serial rapists.
But the case continues to stir strong sentiments in India.
Yesterday, the woman's parents reiterated that they had been denied justice. "Even after all the efforts, he has been released. We are worried that in the coming years no woman will be safe. Crime will increase," the father said.
Ms Swati Maliwal, head of the Delhi Commission for Women, which filed the last-ditch petition on the grounds that there had been no proper assessment of the man's state of mind, said everybody wanted him to remain in custody.
"People of this country don't want Nirbhaya's rapist to walk free. India Gate protest shows that. Have a lot of hope from SC," Ms Maliwal tweeted, referring to the woman's name and the Supreme Court.
The federal government has not been spared the public backlash over the release.
Amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, including giving juvenile justice boards the option of trying 16- to 18-year-olds accused of extreme crimes as adults, are stuck in Parliament, where proceedings have stalled.
While the amendments have been passed by the Lower House, they are still awaiting passage in the Upper House.
While some activists believe the 20-year-old man should not continue to be treated as a criminal after completing his sentence, others say his release sent the wrong message.
Former policeman Kiran Bedi tweeted: "The current Juvenile Justice Act never envisaged that the society will have to deal with such a brutal rapist one day. This case has beaten all."