India gang rape: 'nobody helped us'
A friend who was with the Indian student who died after being gang raped says things may be different if passers-by had stopped to help.PT1M46S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2cas4 620 349 January 6, 2013
India is justifiably proud of its young democracy. It is passionate, populist, and as the past weeks' protests have shown, spectacularly public. But India is in danger of abandoning its democratic principles over the case of the Delhi gang rape.
The country is rightly outraged about the crime: a brutal assault on a young woman, bashed with an iron bar and gang-raped on a bus, before being tossed from the moving vehicle, naked and unconscious, to die 13 days later.
But in the aftermath, during which cities all over the country have been seized by mass protests, India has at times appeared eager to abandon due process in favour of swift retribution. Defence lawyers at the Saket District Court, which will hear the case, have voted en masse to refuse to represent the men. Arun Rathee, the vice-president of the Bar Association at Saket District Court, said the men had committed a ''heinous'' crime, before they had even been presented to the court.
Outpouring … protesters burn an effigy depicting rapists at a rally in Delhi. The death of a young woman who was raped has triggered anger and grief. Photo: AFP
The prosecutor in the case has also stated baldly that the six are guilty. The cases of these men will be the first held before Saket's ''fast-track'' court, inaugurated last week to hear this and other sex assault cases promptly. The accused will be in court on Monday.
So far, the new court appears unprepared. The case has shuttled back and forth between magistrates and courtrooms, delayed by bureaucracy, absent paperwork and the prosecutor turning up late to court. It does not augur well for a calm, deliberate trial.
Predictably, there have been widespread calls for the death penalty, even for summary executions. But as heinous as this crime is, the existing judicial standard in this country is that the crimes of murder and rape do not attract the death penalty. The Indian Supreme Court has a stated policy of imposing the death penalty only in the ''rarest of rare'' cases. Only three people have been executed since 1995, one for the rape and murder of a child.
The last person hanged, last year, was the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 164 people.
At a meeting of state directors-general of police, there was a push from some states to change laws so that 16- and 17-year-olds could be tried as adults. The ruling Congress Party has offered its support.
The move is a response to the fact that one of the Delhi gang rape accused is a few months' short of his 18th birthday.
While the law insists he will be prosecuted through the juvenile justice system, many in India - including the victim's father, protest leaders and even lawyers - are demanding he be tried as an adult and executed. A knee-jerk legislative reaction could lead to the extraordinary situation where India becomes a country which executes children.
There are voices urging calm. Chief Justice Altamas Kabir counselled that the accused must be afforded due process: ''People's reaction has been: 'do not send them to trial, hand them over to us, we will deal with them or hang them.' But let us not get carried away. A swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial.''
The criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who defended Indira Gandhi's assassins, said the lawyers' decision to refuse the case hindered rather than helped the application of justice.
India's justice system is notoriously inefficient - rape and murder cases without this level of attention can languish for years, even decades.
But justice will be strengthened, not weakened, by strict application of due process here. That will prove the mob is not more powerful than the rule of law.