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India urged to reform rape trials

An Indian commission set up to suggest reforms to country’s rape laws after last month’s Delhi gang rape of a student has called for faster trials.

The panel, led by former chief justice JS Verma, also called for longer sentences but not the death penalty.

India’s law minister said the report would get “government attention” soon.

The brutal assault on the 23-year-old student in Delhi in December shocked India and sparked a debate about the treatment of women.

Justice JS Verma said his three-member commission had received 80,000 responses from India and abroad on how to reform rape laws.

Among the recommendations of the report, submitted to the home ministry on Wednesday, were:

  • broadening of the definition of what constituted sexual assault
  • cases to be tried in specially designated courts, preferably by women judges
  • quicker trials and faster processing of appeals in cases of crimes against women
  • more accountability for the police
  • better implementation of laws and the need for a change in the mindset of law-enforcers
  • strong action against those found guilty of trafficking and against security forces convicted of sexual assault in conflict zones.
  • uniform national protocol for the treatment and medical examination of rape survivors

The panel also recommended that those found guilty of rape leading to death spend the rest of their life in prison, but it stopped short of calling for the death penalty, something which many in India had pushed for.

“What is needed to enforce laws is the sensitivity on the part of those who implement it,” he told a news conference after submitting the report to the home ministry in Delhi.

“The state’s role is not just punishing criminals but also to prevent crimes against women,” he said.

An Indian commission set up to suggest reforms to country's rape laws after last month's Delhi gang rape of a student has called for faster trials

An Indian commission set up to suggest reforms to country’s rape laws after last month’s Delhi gang rape of a student has called for faster trials

Justice JS Verma said the authorities had failed in their duties to the public.

He said that despite the huge number of responses to the commission’s request for ideas, not a single Indian state police chief had sent recommendations.

The head of the panel also praised young people for going into the streets to protest about the status quo.

“Youth has taught us what we, the older generation, were not aware of. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out… the youth rose to the occasion,” he said.

Justice Leila Seth, another member of the commission, said police “don’t take complaints of rape victims seriously”.

“There is institutional bias against the weaker sections of society,” she said.

The Verma committee also looked at marital rapes and physical, sexual and psychological violence in the family.

Justice JS Verma said he hoped that the report would be taken seriously by the government.

The student raped in December, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was attacked after boarding a bus in south Delhi with a male friend.

Police said the assailants beat both of them, and then raped the woman. She suffered massive internal injuries and died nearly two weeks later.

The incident led to nationwide protests against the treatment of women in India. Campaigners called for tougher rape laws and reforms to the police, who have been accused of often failing to file charges against attackers.

Earlier this week, the trial of five men held for the crime began at a specially convened fast-track court.

If convicted, the men could face the death penalty. A sixth suspect, who is thought to be 17, is expected to be tried by a juvenile court.

The government has said it will bring in stronger sexual assault laws and has established several committees to recommend changes.

It has also promised to fast-track future rape cases. Legal proceedings in India sometimes involve years of delays.

There are believed to be about 95,000 rape cases pending nationwide, according to Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist.

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