The family of the New Delhi woman who was gang raped and murdered in December slammed a court verdict that sent a teenager convicted of attacking her to three years in a reform home and demanded he be hanged.
The brother of the victim said he tried to attack the teenager in court and broke down in tears when the verdict was announced on Aug. 31. The defendant, who was 17 at the time of the attack and is now 18, should face the death penalty like four other men being tried for the same crimes in a separate, specially convened fast-track adult court, the brother said.
This was the first verdict in a case that reverberated around the world and shone a spotlight on the scale of sexual violence in the world’s second-most populous country. The 23-year-old physiotherapy student was assaulted aboard a moving bus as she returned home from the cinema with a male friend in the nation’s capital in December in a case that caused revulsion and outrage and weeks of nationwide protests.
“There is no justice for my sister,” the victim’s brother, whose name can’t be published under laws forbidding identification of rape victims, said in an interview yesterday. “This kind of punishment sends out a message that you can commit rape and you won’t be punished.”
A tribunal in the nation’s capital handed down the maximum punishment for a juvenile offender allowed under India’s laws. Indian political leaders, including Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, have been calling for tougher sentences for criminals under the age of 18 in the wake of the woman’s murder.
The mother of the woman, who had tears running down her face after the verdict was announced, said she will continue to campaign for the teenager to be awarded the death penalty. As the defendant has served eight months in a remand home awaiting trial, he will be freed in just over two years.
“We feel cheated,” the woman’s mother told reporters. “This kind of justice is meaningless.”
The juvenile comes from Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states, and moved to New Delhi at the age of 11, according to the Hindustan Times. The newspaper also reported he was the most brutal among the attackers, allegedly sexually assaulting the victim twice, once while she was unconscious.
India’s top court is currently hearing a petition seeking a new interpretation of laws on criminal responsibility so longer sentences can be considered.
Amid demonstrations following the attack, the government passed laws imposing stricter punishments for sexual assaults and the setting up of fast-track courts. The government toughened laws on sexual assault, criminalizing stalking and voyeurism, and allowing for capital punishment if an attack leaves the victim in a vegetative state.
The verdict comes at a time when a series of attacks on women reignited an angry debate about their safety in India. Two police officers working in the suburbs of New Delhi were arrested along with two other men at the weekend for gang raping a woman, the police said. A spiritual guru was also arrested for sexually assaulting a young girl at the weekend.
After a photographer working as an intern at a magazine was gang raped while shooting an abandoned textile mill in Mumbai, there were street protests and an outpouring of anger. While the victim was taken away and repeatedly raped two weeks ago, her male colleague was tied up and assaulted.
Even in a country accustomed to violence against women, the murder of the student in New Delhi triggered a furious response. Her life story, a journey from small-town India to the big city in search of a better education and opportunities, resonated with millions who make the same journey each year.
During the two-hour assault in 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 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 identified.
“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.