Indian activists rally to demand harsher punishment for the juvenile found… (EPA )
MEERUT, India — A teenager was sentenced Saturday in New Delhi to three years in juvenile detention for taking part in a fatal gang rape, a case that has fueled heated debate in India over the treatment of women and whether minors should be tried as adults in serious cases.
According to police, five men and the juvenile defendant, who was 17 at the time, lured the 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her male companion onto an off-duty bus in December. They assaulted the couple with iron bars and raped the woman repeatedly while driving around New Delhi, the capital, before tossing both of the victims naked onto the road.
Neither the juvenile nor the woman, who died of internal injuries two weeks later, were publicly named in keeping with Indian law.
The incident led to weeks of protests, and the creation of fast-track courts to handle sex crimes. It’s also sparked an impassioned debate over whether juveniles are being let off too lightly in India in certain brutal cases.
While four adult males in the case face the death penalty, the juvenile received the maximum sentence of 36 months in a juvenile reform facility. He will be freed in a little over two years, including time already served.
Verdicts for four adults accused in the case are expected within the next few weeks. A fifth adult suspect, allegedly the ring leader, was found hanged in his jail cell in March.
“The juvenile has been found guilty under rape and murder charges, and accordingly sentenced to three years,” Rajesh Tiwari, a lawyer representing the juvenile, told reporters.
The victim’s family expressed outrage Saturday at the sentence. “He should have been given the death penalty,” said the victim’s brother, requesting anonymity, adding that the family would request an appeal. “This is a battle, and we are prepared to fight."
The defenant, who turned 18 in June, pleaded not guilty to all 13 charges he faced including murder, rape and robbery. The media was not permitted into the trial or allowed to report on the proceedings to safeguard the juvenile’s identity. TV footage showed the suspect emerge from a blue police van and head into the court, his face covered with a peach-colored scarf, and wearing a dirty white long-sleeve shirt and gray pants.
The defendant reportedly left home at the age of 11, got work in a low-end restaurant, then drifted, washing buses and collecting fares for the driver. His mother reportedly told police she thought he was dead until she heard about his arrest.
The Indian government has been under political pressure to try the accused quickly. And on Saturday the road in front of the court building was mobbed with television crews awaiting the verdict.
A government panel established to consider reforms to India’s sexual assault laws rejected calls for suspects older than 16 to be tried as adults. India’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition seeking to take a defendant’s “mental and intellectual maturity,” not just age, into account.
Juvenile experts said there’s little chance the defendant will be rehabilitated in India’s juvenile detention facilities.
“India’s detention centers are a sorry state, nothing constructive happens there,” said Anant Asthana, a New Delhi-based child rights lawyer. “They’re a vestige of the past and children don’t learn anything. They’re not rehab centers but incarceration centers where children are held captive.”
Given public anger over this case, child welfare activists said, the convicted juvenile is probably safer inside the detention facility than outside.
“The Delhi gang rape accused will be lynched and killed whenever he comes out,” said Bharti Ali, co-director of New Delhi’s HAQ Center for Child Rights, a civic group. “He will not be treated well inside also, this goes without saying, but at least there will be authorities inside.”
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Special correspondent Sharma reported from Meerut and staff writer Magnier from Kabul, Afghanistan.