Amid growing outrage at the freeing of the 20-year-old, judges said there were no legal grounds to allow a petition by the Delhi Commission for Women, which wanted to reverse his release from a youth correctional facility.
At a hearing presided over by Justice A. K. Goel and U. U. Lalit, the court said “there is nothing in the law” that would allow them to order him back behind bars and he therefore could not be detained any longer.
“We asked for an interim order restraining his release but the court did not entertain this,” said the women’s commission chairwoman Swati Maliwal.
“The entire system has failed the women of this country,” she told reporters outside the court.
The ruling was greeted with despair by the parents of the victim, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh who has become the symbol of the plight of women in a country with frightening levels of sexual violence.
“What can I say? There are no words to describe our disappointment,” her father Badrinath Singh told AFP.
“We don’t understand all these laws. We only know that the system has failed us.”
The convict, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of a group of six who abducted the young physiotherapy student, after she had spent an evening at the movies with a male friend.
They lured her onto an off-duty bus and then took it in turns to rape her and violate her with a metal rod before throwing her onto the road. She died of her injuries nearly a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital.
One of the six committed suicide while on remand in prison and the other four adult attackers were given the death penalty for the attack, although the sentence has yet to be carried out pending an appeal.
‘Licence to rape’
The youngest of the convicts was sent to a juvenile correctional facility for a three-year term — the maximum allowed under Indian law.
Jyoti’s mother, Asha Devi, said Monday’s ruling showed that India had “not learned any lessons from this case”.
“They have basically handed young criminals a licence that says before the age of 18 you can rape girls, do whatever you want, because our laws do not have any provisions to punish you,” she told reporters.
“They only care about men … Women are only betrayed, like they always have been.”
Both parents were briefly detained on Sunday after police broke up a protest against the release on security grounds but they are due to attend a fresh demonstration on Monday afternoon near parliament.
News that he had been freed from the correctional facility and was now being sheltered by a charity was only revealed on Sunday when the juvenile justice board signed his release papers.
However police sources said that he was in fact handed over to the charity — which has not been named over fears of an attack on its premises — on December 9.
The convict’s lawyer said his client would like to have gone back to his family home in the state of Uttar Pradesh but feared for his safety if he did so.
“He is free and at the shelter home and will come out in a few days,” the lawyer, A.P. Singh, told the Indian Express newspaper.
“He was supposed to go back home but there are protests there and OB (television outside broadcast) vans have come. We haven’t even been able to speak to his mother.”
Under Indian law, the victim of a sex attack cannot be named but the parents last week called for people to use Jyoti’s name in a bid to end the stigma often attached to victims.