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article imageDelhi gang-rape case sent to fast-track court

By Raluca Besliu     Jan 18, 2013 in Politics
The case of five men accused of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi will open on Monday at a fast-track court in Delhi.
The men, aged 18 to 35, include a bus driver, a part-time gym instructor, a cleaner and a fruit-vendor.
A sixth suspect claims to be a minor and will be tried separately in a youth court. However, there have been ample public appeals for him to face the death penalty as the other accused men. The rape and murder of the young woman have led to massive protests throughout India and launched a society-wide debate on the treatment of women in the country.
The five adult suspects’ lawyers claim that their clients were tortured by the police, who beat them to force them to confess their crime. Legal experts have declared the accusations as “credible,” given that police abuses are widespread in India.
The lawyers of two of the men have stated that they would plead not guilty, while it remains unclear how the other three will plead. Meanwhile, prosecutors claim that they possess DNA evidence linking the accused to the crime. Rajiv Mohan, a public prosecutor, has claimed that the suspects attempted to destroy potential evidence by burning their clothes, but that parts of the burnt fabric was proven to contain traces of blood from their victim. The lawyer of the bus driver ho whose vehicle the gang rape took place, stressed he feared that his client would not get a fair hearing in Delhi, since intense media interest could prejudice the proceedings.
In response to the widespread protests advocating for increased protection for women, the government, accused for its slow and unsatisfactory response and for unleashing thousands of policemen on the demonstrators in an effort to protect parliament buildings and senior officials’ homes, promised to introduce stronger sexual assault legislation, established several committee to propose legal changes and introduced five fast-track countries in the capital to handle crimes against women.
The fast-tracks courts aim to help tackle the case backlog, incompetence and corruption that affect India’s legal system, especially in cases of sexual abuse.
Can the fast-track system, which the government plans to further expand, be an adequate solution to India’s legal woes? Since their establishment in 2001, the fast-track courts have managed to solve more 3 million cases, which is an important achievement, given that there are 30 million cases pending in courts across India. At the same time, the fast track courts use retired high court judges and promoted judicial officers, thus helping alleviate India’s judge shortage, which currently has 14 judges per one million citizens.
Some experts, however, raise doubts regarding the quality of judgments offered by such courts. Leading lawyer and rights activist Colin Gonsalves emphasized that “people are "generally very upset by the declining standards of these courts and have defined it as 'fast-track injustice.'" He added that the criminal justice system requires care and attention, whereas in the fast-track courts, the judges often “cut down on evidence, do not full cross-examinations, proceed in the absence of lawyers in many cases." Others have raised concerns over the fact that many of the judges are retirees who are not accountable to the high court for miscarriage of justice.
Nevertheless, in a country where official statistics point out that a rape is reported every 20 minutes and where sexual harassment of women in public places is widespread, the outcry against rape and women’s rights violations are the reforms started by the government have not prevented offenders from carrying on their abuses. Most recently, the Times of India highlighted the case of an 11-year-old girl who was abducted from a bus stop in the state of Rajasthan and repeatedly raped by six men. She is still struggling to survive in hospital, after undergoing multiple operations.
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