An Indian court found four men guilty of the fatal gang rape of a student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a case that caused national outrage and drew attention to a surge in violence against women in the country.
After an eight-month trial, a specially convened fast-track court in the nation’s capital found the men guilty of all the 13 offences they were charged with, including rape, murder and robbery. Arguments on the sentencing will start tomorrow with prosecutors and the victim’s family pushing for the death penalty. Defense lawyers said they will appeal.
The men were convicted “for committing the murder of a helpless person,” Judge Yogesh Khanna said, reading out his verdict as the parents of the victim watched on with tears in their eyes.
The attack on the medical student in December spurred weeks of nationwide protests, triggered an unprecedented debate about sexual violence in the world’s largest democracy and prompted the government to impose stricter punishments. Tougher laws have failed to deter criminals even as a photographer at a magazine in Mumbai and a female police constable in the eastern state of Jharkhand were gang raped last month.
About 50 protestors, some dressed in black hoods with ropes around their necks, gathered outside the court chanting “hang them, hang them, hang them” after the verdict.
“These people are a disgrace to the nation and they don’t deserve any mercy,” said Usha Shukla, 48, who has been participating in protest rallies since the incident happened. “They should be hanged so others will be afraid to commit these crimes.”
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student, whose name can’t be published under laws forbidding the identification of rape victims, was returning home from the cinema with a male friend when six drunken men, including a teenager, attacked them on a bus and then took turns to rape her.
In the brutal two-hour assault, the woman was repeatedly violated with a metal rod before being dumped naked along with her companion beside a road near New Delhi’s airport. The couple was then ignored by passersby, while police argued over where to take them as they lay bleeding on the street, according to the woman’s friend. The victim died of her injuries two weeks later.
Her life story -- a journey from small town India to the big city in search of an education and opportunity -- resonated with millions who make the same journey each year. She was working in a call center to fund her medical studies at the time when she was murdered.
The victim’s family criticized the verdict of an Indian juvenile court last month after it sentenced the teenager, who was under the age of 18 at the time of the attack, to three years in a reform home for his role in the assault and murder. That is the maximum sentence that can be given to a juvenile under Indian law.
A sixth defendant and the alleged ring leader committed suicide in March in his cell, according to prison authorities. His family and lawyer said he was murdered and had previously been attacked by other inmates for his crimes.
The guilty verdict and speedy conclusion of the case may encourage other women to report cases of rape, according to Indu Agnihotri, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Development Studies. Brutal cases of rape take place every day around India and are not reported, she said.
“The verdict sends a signal that there is a judicial process that can move fast and bring culprits to book,” Agnihotri said.
In the first six months of 2013, reported rapes in New Delhi soared to 806 from 330 in the same period a year earlier. The rise may reflect greater confidence in reporting assaults, police said.