Jyoti Singh, who was 23, died after being brutally assaulted on a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012, triggering angry protests over India’s treatment of women.
The Delhi High Court said it was unable to halt the release of the attacker, who was 17 at the time of the rape, because he had served the maximum three years in a juvenile detention facility.
“This is a setback for the entire country. The court said that as per current legislation, he cannot be remanded for more than three years,” Anil Soni, one of the lawyers in the case, told reporters.
“The terror that we had faced a few years back will be back on the 20th of December on our streets,” he added, referring to the release date.
The victim’s mother, who on Wednesday publicly named her daughter for the first time, said the parents had failed to secure justice.
“We did not get the justice we were assured of. Finally, a criminal will walk free,” a teary-eyed Asha Singh told reporters after the hearing.
Women’s rights groups opposed the juvenile’s release, mainly on the grounds that it was unclear if he had been rehabilitated and was ready to be reintegrated into society.
The court instructed government welfare departments to look after the attacker’s post-release rehabilitation and reform over the next two years.
Singh’s father said they were mulling appealing the decision in the Supreme Court, India’s highest court.
“We have been hurting since 2012. Let’s see what we do, right now my head isn’t working at all,” Badrinath Singh said.
The Indian government introduced tougher penalties for rapists and other measures after the December 16, 2012 attack.
But activists blamed stalled parliament proceedings for blocking a key bill that would allow some minors accused of “heinous” crimes to be tried as adults.
Four of the other attackers, who were convicted and handed the death penalty in 2013, have appeals pending in the top court.