A teenager was found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi in December, the first verdict in a case that reverberated around the world and shone a spotlight on the scale of sexual violence in India.
A tribunal in the nation’s capital yesterday handed down the maximum punishment for a juvenile offender allowed under India’s laws -- a three-year reformatory term -- according to Rajesh Tiwari, a lawyer for the accused, an 18-year-old who was 17 at time of the attack. Prosecutors have sought the death penalty for four men being tried for the same crimes in a separate, specially convened fast-track adult court.
The attack on the 23-year-old medical student aboard a moving bus produced such revulsion and outrage that it quickly became a symbol of the dangers faced by women in the world’s second-most populous country. Amid demonstrations following the attack and the woman’s death, the government passed laws imposing stricter punishments for sexual assaults and the setting up of fast-track courts.
“The three years in a reformatory facility will begin from the date he was apprehended,” Tiwari said yesterday. “We will read the judgment and decide soon on whether to go to the higher court.”
The tougher laws have failed to stop the attacks. The gang rape of a young photographer in Mumbai reignited concerns about women’s safety and an outpouring of anger at the government and police for failing to stop the violence.
The juvenile convicted yesterday comes from Uttar Pradesh, one of the country’s poorest states, and moved to New Delhi at the age of 11, according to the Hindustan Times. Police said he was the most brutal attacker, allegedly sexually abusing the victim twice, once while she was unconscious, the newspaper said.
“He has committed a heinous crime and this punishment is nothing,” the victim’s mother told reporters after the verdict. “We want all those who committed the crime, including this boy, to be hanged.”
Media were barred from reporting the trial of the adolescent, whose name can’t be revealed under Indian rules.
During the two-hour assault aboard the bus, the woman was repeatedly raped before being dumped naked along with her male companion near New Delhi’s airport. The couple had been tricked into boarding the vehicle, which the accused were driving illegally.
In revelations that fueled public outrage, the victims were ignored by passersby and police argued over where to take them as they lay bleeding on the street, according to televised comments by the man who survived the attack. Neither has been officially named.
Indian political leaders, including Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, and the victim’s family have been calling for tougher sentences for criminals under the age of 18 in the wake of the woman’s murder. India’s top court is currently hearing an appeal seeking a new interpretation of laws on criminal responsibility so longer sentences can be considered.
“India is one of few countries in the world which caps sentences for juveniles regardless of the crime,” said Kamal Kumar Pandey, a lawyer who petitioned the Supreme Court for the law to be changed earlier this year. “It is totally irrational. There is no justice for the victims.”
The trial of the four other defendants charged with conspiracy to abduct the woman, sexually assault and murder her is expected to finish in about a month. All the men have pleaded not guilty.
In March, Ram Singh, the bus driver accused of leading the group, killed himself in the capital’s biggest prison midway through his trial. Another defendant, Vinay Sharma, was left in critical condition in May after being attacked by his fellow inmates. Sharma is now out of the hospital.
A woman was raped every 21 minutes last year in India, according to police records. That figure probably understates the scale of the violence because many women are reluctant to report the crimes, said analysts including Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.
Protesters took to the streets again in April demanding the resignation of New Delhi’s police chief after the rape of a 5-year-old girl in the capital. An American woman was gang-raped while hitchhiking back to her hotel in an Indian tourist town in the Himalayas.
There have been 806 cases of rape in New Delhi in the first six months of this year, according to Deepak Mishra, special commissioner of the city's police force, up from 708 cases throughout the whole of last year. The rise may reflect greater confidence in reporting assaults, police said.
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