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rape laws

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.

Five men are to be charged with the kidnap, gang-rape and murder of an Indian woman on a Delhi bus last month.

The 23-year-old medical student died at the weekend from injuries she sustained during the December 16 attack, in an incident that sparked national outrage.

If convicted, the five could face the death penalty. They are not expected to appear in court in person.

A sixth suspect is reported to be under 18 and a juvenile. Police have ordered a bone marrow test to confirm his age.

The charges will be presented at Delhi’s Saket district court.

Although it is mandatory in India for the accused to appear in person to be charged, policemen outside the court say they will not be presented for security reasons.

The trial is expected to begin as early as the weekend, with daily hearings.

Media reports say the charges and evidence run to more than 1,000 pages, including key testimony from the woman before she died, and that police have lined up about 30 witnesses.

On Wednesday, thousands of women marched through Delhi to Rajghat – the memorial to India’s independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi – to protest against the rape and Indian attitudes to women.

Five men are to be charged with the kidnap, gang-rape and murder of an Indian woman on a Delhi bus last month

Five men are to be charged with the kidnap, gang-rape and murder of an Indian woman on a Delhi bus last month

Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was among the protesters, and called for stringent anti-rape laws.

The family of the victim, who has not been named, have said they would have no objection if a new anti-rape law was named after her, as suggested by India’s Junior Education Minister Shashi Tharoor.

Protests have been taking place every day since the gang-rape with protesters expressing anger over attitudes to women in India and calling for changes to the laws on violence against women.

The woman and a male friend had been to see a film when they boarded the bus.

Police said she was raped for nearly an hour, and both she and her companion were beaten with iron bars then thrown out of the moving bus into the street.

On Tuesday, police sources said the driver of the bus had tried to run her over after throwing her out, but she was saved by her friend, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

The Indian government has been heavily criticized for failing to protect women.

According to official figures, a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours, while women across the country say they are frequently subjected to sexual intimidation and violence.

Since the bus attack, Delhi officials have announced a series of measures intended to make the city safer for women.

These include more police night patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains.

The government has also set up a committee under a retired Supreme Court judge to recommend changes to the anti-rape law.

A telephone helpline has been launched for women in distress, connected with police stations across the city.

But many of the protesters say that women are viewed as second-class citizens, and that a fundamental change in culture and attitudes, backed up by law, is needed to protect them.

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