September 10, 2013

Indian court convicts four in fatal gang rape case

The men were convicted on all the counts against them, including rape and murder, and now face the possibility of hanging.

By Katy Daigle and Shivani Rawat / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Photographers gather by a van carrying four men accused in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus last year, as it arrives at a court in New Delhi, India, Tuesday.

AP

With them during the attack were two other men: Ram Singh, 33, who police say hanged himself in prison, though his family insist he was murdered. He was the brother of Mukesh Singh, who was convicted Tuesday. Another man — an 18-year-old who was a juvenile at the time of the attack and cannot be identified under Indian law — was convicted in August and will serve the maximum sentence: Three years in a reform home.

Facing public protests and political pressure after the attack, the government reformed some of its antiquated laws on sexual violence, creating fast-track courts to avoid the painfully long rape trials that can easily last over a decade. The trial of the four men, which took about seven months, was astonishingly fast by Indian standards. The men can appeal their convictions.

While many activists heralded the changes that came with the case — more media reporting on sexual violence, education for police in how to treat rape victims — they note that women remain widely seen as second-class citizens in India. Girls get less medical care and less education than boys, studies show. Millions of female fetuses are statistically "missing" because of illegal sex-selective abortions.

Victims of sexual assault, meanwhile, often find themselves blamed by their families and police, who deride them for inviting attacks. Activists say most rapes are simply kept secret, even from authorities, so that the woman and her family are not seen as tainted.

"We can celebrate this particular case. But total change is a much larger issue," said Rebecca John, supreme court lawyer and prominent advocate for women in India.

"As we celebrate this case, let us mourn for the other cases that are not highlighted."

The victim's family was, in many ways, far different from most in India. Her parents had pushed her to go as far as possible in school, and even encouraged her to leave home for a better education, both seen as highly suspect in the conservative village culture that her parents were born into. They had saved for years to help pay her school fees, and made clear that her brother would not be favored.

And when she was raped, the only people they blamed were her rapists.

Their pain has been staggering.

"I always told my children: 'If you study hard you can escape this poverty.' All my life I believed this," the mother told the AP in an interview earlier this year. "Now that dream has ended."

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