The youngest of six men convicted of the gruesome gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012 was released on Sunday after serving just three years in a correctional center. The 20-year-old's discharge was greeted by protests and an attempt to extend his punishment.
On Monday, after considering a petition from the Delhi Commission for Women demanding a longer sentence for the man, who remains unnamed because he was 17 at the time of the rape and tried as a minor, India's Supreme Court said that it had no power to detain him. The Juvenile Justice Board had given him the maximum punishment of three years in a reform facility, which he has served.
"Everything had happened in accordance with the law," the two judges said in their ruling, adding that they "need legislative sanctions" to take any further action against him.
On Sunday, more than a hundred people, including the victim's parents, gathered in Delhi to protest against the convict's release. Compounding their frustration, the young man is due to receive a new identity, and his public record will not include reference to the crime.
The rape and murder in 2012 shocked India, highlighting a culture of abuse and harassment against women in the country, where police say a rape is reported every 20 minutes.
In 2012, the juvenile and five adult companions lured a 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist and her male friend onto a private bus in Delhi. The man who was just released was the bus driver's conductor, and had originally called out to the pair encouraging them to board the bus. He and the others repeatedly and viciously raped the woman and beat both her and her friend with an iron rod before dumping them on a road. The assailants also penetrated her with the rod, damaging her internal organs.
The woman died two weeks later of her injuries. Four of the adults were sentenced to death while the fifth hanged himself in prison. The death sentences have not yet been carried out.
The lenient sentence for the teenager sparked debate over whether the country is too soft on young offenders. Police accused him of being violent and said he pulled out part of the woman's intestines with his hands during the attack.
India responded to the public outcry over the rape by fast-tracking tougher laws against sex crimes, and members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government have pushed to change the juvenile law and reduce the age of attaining adulthood from 18 to 16.
Swati Maliwal, the head of Delhi Commission for Women, told reporters outside the court that the national government let India down by failing to change the law under which anyone below the age of 18 can only be sentenced to three years.
"In the end, the court said we share your concerns," she said. "But the law is weak, we can't do anything."
There have been moderate legislative gains in protecting women in the Indian judicial system since the Delhi bus attack. The government expanded the legal definition of rape and increased sentences for convictions, but also refused to criminalize martial rape, citing India's cultural heritage. Despite the stronger laws, women in India are still at great risk for violence.
"I'm inclined to say there's much more openness and reporting in certain sectors, and perhaps some less stigma, but what hasn't changed is the social consequences, the violence which is burdened on women not the men," Priya Nanda, the New Delhi-based director of Social and Economic Development at the International Center for Research on Women, told VICE News in June.