A New Delhi court convicted the four men accused of raping and murdering a young medical student last December. The attack became a catalyst of change to criminal law, while the guilty verdict has put women's safety in the spotlight here.
The brutal, high-profile incident led to massive daily protests across the capital for a month, new laws to address sexual violence, and increased media attention on rape in India.
Six men in total were accused of tricking the woman and a male companion into boarding a chartered bus, Dec.16, on their way home from a movie. Police say that in a premeditated act the men beat up her friend and raped the woman, using a metal bar to inflict serious injuries. The two were then dumped, naked, by the side of the road. The woman later died in a Singapore hospital.
“Seeing this case as a rare one just because there were large protests over it is the wrong way to go about it,” says Kabita Krishnan, an activist who had mobilized many of the protesters in support of women’s rights here. “The trial in this case has been exemplary, but fighting rape demands that every case be [treated] with similar alacrity and conviction rates must go up,” she says.
The bus driver committed suicide in the jail earlier this year, and a 16-year-old male teenager was found guilty in a juvenile court last month and sentenced to three years in a reform facility. The four remaining men charged with rape will be sentenced Wednesday. They face the death penalty.
The victim's mother and brother were in tears as the judge read out the verdict. Family members of the convicted were also in court, while outside, protesters demanded the death penalty. Indian jurisprudence says that capital punishment should be reserved for the “rarest of rare” cases.
That the trial lasted only seven months is a first – trials in India are notorious for delay and red tape, and can take years to complete. Many are hopeful that the comparatively quick sentencing will set a precedent. According to the Indian law ministry, there are more than 23,000 rape cases pending in high courts across the country.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 23 percent of the rape cases registered in 2012 resulted in convictions. “There has been greater social awareness and engagement with the issue of sexual violence, but as a woman I still don't feel safer because the police and law enforcement hasn't changed,” says Ms. Krishnan.
To speed up the convictions, the government has announced it is setting up 1,800 special fast-track courts for trying cases of violence against women, children, and the elderly.
Vrinda Grover, a woman’s rights lawyer, says the biggest achievement out of the case has been the amendments in criminal law, making punishments more stringent for a variety of crimes against women, such as acid attacks, stalking, and voyeurism.
“But the actual prosecution, and making sure that it is efficient in securing convictions, [still] has a lot to be improved,” she says.