Outrage in India over gang-rape sentence
By Ammu Kannampilly, AFPNEW DELHI--India's opposition said Sunday it would seek tougher punishments for juveniles after the first verdict in the New Delhi gang-rape case saw a teenager sentenced to three years' detention, sparking widespread anger.
September 2, 2013, 12:07 am TWN
The rape and murder of a 23-year-old student by six attackers on a moving bus last December sparked nationwide protests and led to reforms that mandated longer sentences for adult sex offenders.
Sushma Swaraj, opposition leader in the lower house of parliament, said she would introduce a bill this week to amend the law for juveniles.
“This meagre punishment of just three years does not do justice,” Swaraj wrote on Twitter.
“The sentence must commensurate with the gravity of the offence irrespective of the age of the offender,” she added.
On Saturday a juvenile court in New Delhi sentenced the only under-age suspect in the gang — who was 17 at the time of the crime — to three years in a correctional facility.
This was the maximum sentence under Indian law, which treats all under-18s as children and seeks to reform rather than punish them.
“TRAVESTY: December 16 teen rapist 'gets away' with murder,” a headline in the tabloid Mail Today read, summing up the mood.
The convicted teen will spend about 28 months in a juvenile detention center, having already spent about eight months in custody awaiting the verdict.
“He can watch TV, play games while doing time,” the Hindustan Times reported, while pointing out that police sources had earlier described the teenager as “the most brutal” of the six attackers.
The Times of India said the gang-rape victim had “been denied justice” by the juvenile court.
Subramanian Swamy, a politician from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told AFP the teenager “should have been executed” and he intended to file an appeal against Saturday's court order.
Swamy has already lodged a petition in the Supreme Court challenging India's juvenile law for not taking the gravity of a crime into account during sentencing.
“It's ridiculous to think you can reform a person who has committed a heinous crime, who has raped and murdered a young woman in such a brutal fashion,” he added.
According to the teenager's defense lawyer, his conduct will be observed and the sentence could be reduced for good behavior.
The juvenile was employed to clean the bus where the attack took place and often slept rough or inside the vehicle, reports say.
A child rights activist who knows him said he grew up poor in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and moved to Delhi on his own at the age of 11 when he began a string of menial jobs.
“He changed jobs all the time, desperate to earn more and send money to his family,” the activist told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A government panel set up after the gang-rape to recommend changes to sex crime laws rejected calls to lower the age at which people can be tried as adults from 18 to 16.
The panel's report in January also said it was “completely dissatisfied with the operation of children's institutions,” a view echoed by several child rights activists.