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Indians call for swifter justice for rape victims
Publication Date : 27-08-2013
The five men accused in the gang-rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist in Mumbai will be tried in a fast-track court with a high-profile prosecutor.
That much has changed.
But nine months after the brutal Delhi gang-rape that led to the creation of those fast-track rape courts and the introduction of the death penalty for rape if the victim dies, many Indians are asking if justice is really swifter.
"We passed a law but till today the (Delhi) case has not been completed. If it is fast-track, is there a timeframe for it?" opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj asked in Parliament. "We are not able to give quick justice."
In spite of daily hearings in the Delhi gang-rape case, the trial against the four accused has stretched for eight months; it is now likely to be concluded next month.
In that case, which galvanised the public around the issue of safety for women, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and brutalised by five men and a teenager in a moving bus in the capital city on Dec 16 last year.
She died two weeks later at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, where she had been flown for medical care.
The horrific incident triggered national protests and world headlines, pushing the government to strengthen India's anti-rape law.
Then came last week, when a young photojournalist was gang-raped while on assignment with a male colleague in an empty mill in Mumbai.
Activists and experts say that despite the threat of harsher punishment, the number of rapes continues to climb. There were 24,923 rapes last year, up 3 per cent from a year earlier. Many cases, activists say, go unreported.
Out of 100,000 pending rape cases across the country, only some 14,700 have been decided, according to 2012 statistics quoted by the Indian media. And though rape cases have climbed, conviction rates remained flat at 25 per cent for the last five years.
"You have to constantly audit why cases aren't working or moving. Why doesn't police evidence hold up in court?" said Sonya Gill, secretary of the state wing of the All India Women's Democratic Association.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court asked states to create a rehabilitation scheme for victims, and also asked why there were so many acquittals. The situation seems to be going from "bad to worse", said the court.
While the police appear more quick to catch culprits, "the conviction rate remains very low", said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research. "So there is still no fear of the law and visible deterrence."
The Delhi gang-rape trial has dragged on for eight months with changes in defence lawyers, a long list of witnesses, as well as the suicide of the main accused in custody.
In Mumbai, police say they have a strong case, with the last of the five suspects arrested on Sunday.
The prosecution is going to be led by Ujjwal Nikam, who successfully prosecuted the lone surviving gunman in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Ajmal Kasab, as well as the 1993 Mumbai bombers, in which 100 of the 129 accused were found guilty.
The family of the photojournalist say they just want speedy justice.
"This will ensure that even the most sick-minded think twice before they act in such an inhuman and insensitive way," the family said in a statement.