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Indian panel rejects death penalty, proposes reforms

By Raluca Besliu     Jan 23, 2013 in Politics
An Indian government panel has rejected the death penalty as a solution to rape instances and put forth a series of recommendations aimed at increasing protection for women, as a response to the gang-rape tragedy that took place in New Delhi last month.
The panel was created in reaction to the nationwide protests sparked by the gang-rape of a young student by six rapists on a moving bus in New Delhi on December 16, 2012. The victim died of several internal injuries caused by her attackers two weeks later.
The panel received over 80,000 proposals for changes in the criminal justice system’s treatment of violence against women and listened to the reform suggestions of over 100 women’s rights activists, lawyers and citizens. The ideas ranged from banning vaginal examinations for rape victims, which often add further trauma and humiliation, to ending political interference in sex crime cases.
Some of the panel's key proposals, contained in a final report, demanded that sexual assault cases be held in specially designated courts, preferably with women judges, that the police be held more accountable for its actions and that there be a more efficient implementation of laws and a change in the mindsets of law-enforcers.
The panel also suggested that those found guilty of rape leading to death receive life imprisonment, but rejected the death penalty, which has been vehemently proposed by some protesters as well as politicians. India’s penal code currently stipulates that rapists should serve a minimum of 7 years in prison and a maximum life term, usually reduced to 10-14 years in practice, while gang-rape convicts can receive between 10 years and a life term.
The panel further rejected lowering the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults, which was another public request received repeatedly, given the fact that, in the New Delhi gang-rape case, one of the suspects, claiming be a minor, is expected to be tried at a juvenile court, where he would face a maximum three year sentence, if declared guilty.
The commission also proposed broadening the understanding of what constitutes sexual assault, to include crimes such as sexual harassment, groping, stalking and acid attacks. Currently, India’s laws, mostly dating back to 1860 and inherited from the former British colonial authorities, exclusively address three crimes against women, rape, using force to `'outrage her modesty,'' and making rude sounds or gestures intending to `'insult the modesty of any woman.”
The panel members have expressed their hope that the Indian government will closely consider their suggestions. Nevertheless, they criticized the police for allowing a state of insecurity to reign in New Delhi and for not taking complaints from rape victims seriously. At the same time, they deplored the fact that, of the 80,000 recommendations received, not even one came from a state police chief.
On Monday, the trial of the five men considered responsible for the gang-rape began at a fast-track court in Delhi. If convicted, the men could face death penalty. Hearings in the case will begin on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering a petition to move the case out of Delhi, as requested by one of the suspect’s lawyer, who claimed that the strong public opinion in Delhi will negatively influence the trail.
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