Indian court convicts 4 in fatal gang rape case

Updated 14 September 2013
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Indian court convicts 4 in fatal gang rape case

NEW DELHI: An Indian court convicted four men Tuesday in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving New Delhi bus, an attack that set off waves of protests and gave voice to years of anger over the treatment of women.
The men were convicted on all the counts against them, including rape and murder, and now face the possibility of hanging. The sentences are expected to be handed down Wednesday.
Judge Yogesh Khanna said in his verdict that the men, who tricked the 23-year-old rape victim and a male friend of hers into boarding the bus they were driving, had committed “murder of a helpless person.”
The parents of the woman, who cannot be identified under Indian law, had tears in their eyes as the verdicts were read. The mother, wearing a pink sari, sat just a few feet from the convicted men in a tiny courtroom jammed with lawyers, police and reporters.
Outside the courthouse, where dozens of protesters had gathered, a chant began quickly after the verdict: “Hang them! Hang them! Hang them!“
Protesters called the Dec. 16 attack a wake-up call for India, where women have long talked quietly of enduring everything from sexual comments to public groping to rape, but where they would often face blame themselves if they complained publicly.
“Every girl at any age experiences this — harassment or rape. We don’t feel safe,” said law school graduate Rabia Pathania. “That’s why we’re here. We want this case to be an example for every other case that has been filed and will be filed.”
Lawyers for the men have insisted that the men were tortured — a common occurrence in India’s chaotic criminal justice system — and that a handful of confessions, which were later retracted, were coerced.
A.P. Singh, who at times has worked as a lawyer for all the men, said they were innocent.
“These accused have been framed simply to please the public,” he told reporters. “This is not a fair trial.”
The men, though, were also identified by the young woman’s friend, and police say they could be seen on security cameras near the bus.
The men, most of them from a crowded New Delhi neighborhood of hand-made brick shanties filled by migrants from poor rural villages, were riding around the city in an off-duty bus when police say they came across the woman and her friend waiting at a bus top. The pair — by most accounts they were not romantically involved — were heading home after an evening showing of “Life of Pi” at a high-end mall just a short walk from the courthouse where Tuesday’s verdict was read.
It wasn’t late. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood. The bus, by all appearances, was just a way for the two to get home.
Instead, the attackers beat the friend into submission, held down the woman and repeatedly raped her. They penetrated her with a metal rod, causing severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later.
The woman, who was from another poor migrant family, had recently finished her exams for a physiotherapy degree. Her father earned a little over $200 a month as an airport baggage handler. She was, the family hoped, their path to the bottom rungs of India’s growing middle class.
The attackers also came from poor and ill-educated families. One, Mukesh Singh, occasionally drove the bus and cleaned it. Another, Vinay Sharma, was a 20-year-old assistant at a gym and the only one to graduate from high school. Akshay Thakur, 28, occasionally worked as a driver’s helper on the bus. Pawan Gupta, 19, was a fruit seller.
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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Delhi gang rape highlights India’s rural-urban divide

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Delhi gang rape highlights India’s rural-urban divide

While the gang rape of a student in New Delhi has prompted women in cities to assert their rights to freedom and safety, in India’s male-dominated villages many leaders see things differently.
In one of many such cases, the village council of Khedar in Haryana state decided at the weekend to ban “vulgar songs” at weddings, prohibit women from wearing jeans and T-shirts, and stop girls from carrying mobile phones to school.
“The village heads met on Sunday because they were shocked with what happened in Delhi. If a gang rape can happen in Delhi, it can happen in our village too,” village head Shamsher Singh said by telephone. “In cities, girls are free to wear anything they want, but our village is a small place and if one girl starts wearing Western clothes then every girl wants to do the same.”
The move reflects the schism in India between the urban — where women have more freedom to choose, marry and work — and deeply traditional and patriarchal village life where independence hero Mahatma Gandhi said the “soul of India” lay.
The reaction in Khedar and other villages, where 800 million of India’s 1.2-billion population live, also casts doubt on a growing narrative that the Delhi gang rape represents a turning point in the country’s attitude to women.
For many, the incident has simply redoubled their belief that the root of the problem lies in modern influences or “Westernisation” — which means “provocative” clothes, sexually explicit music and assertive women. The dead victim in New Delhi, who was gang-raped and violated with an iron bar before being dumped naked by a road side, had been out to watch a Hollywood film at a shopping mall and was returning home after dark with her boyfriend.
“Where ‘Bharat’ (a term for traditional India) becomes ‘India’ with the influence of Western culture, these type of incidents happen,” the leader of India’s biggest grassroots Hindu group was quoted as saying last week. “The actual Indian values and culture should be established at every stratum of society where women are treated as ‘mother’,” Mohan Bhagwat, head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), told a meeting in northeastern India.
A senior ruling party figure, Digvijay Singh, accused the RSS of “wanting to take us back to the 18th century,” but the comments were far from isolated and reflect the views of many village leaders and mainstream politicians. A female Cabinet member in the state government of Madhya Pradesh said women who crossed “moral limits” deserved to be punished, while a lawmaker in the state of Rajasthan suggested banning skirts in schools.
The president’s son, a ruling party lawmaker, dismissed protesters demanding protection from the police and freedom from daily sexual harassment as “painted” women whom he derided as wanting to spark a “pink revolution.” Reicha Tanwar, the director of the Women’s Studies Research Centre in Haryana, says attitudes in rural India, particularly in the most populous northern belt of states, were “going backward” as a result of the Delhi gang rape case.
“They are tightening the reins on girls, that they should not go out, they should not travel alone, that they should not ride on bicycles, or be given mobile phones or be seen talking to boys,” she said.
Whatever notions village leaders had previously about women’s security — often simply that they were to blame for crimes committed against them — “these have been reinforced,” she added.
Village councils and “khap panchayats” — separate informal councils composed of elders — exert enormous influence over rural life, often issuing regressive diktats derided as “Taleban-like” by activists.

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UN Security Council meets over Syria in remote Swedish farmhouse

Updated 9 sec ago
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UN Security Council meets over Syria in remote Swedish farmhouse

BACKARA- SWEDEN: The UN Security Council met in a secluded farmhouse on the southern tip of Sweden on Saturday in a bid to overcome deep divisions over how to end the war in Syria.
In a first for the Council, which normally holds its annual brainstorming session in upstate New York, the 15 ambassadors and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were this year invited to hold an informal meeting in Backakra by Sweden, a non-permanent member of the body.
The United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected on Sunday.
The farmhouse is the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations’ second secretary-general who died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961.
Situated in the heart of a nature reserve, just a stone’s throw from the Baltic Sea, the farmhouse consists of four buildings around a courtyard and has been completely renovated in recent years.
The southern wing serves as the summer residence for the Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel Literature Prize.
With both New York and Damascus thousands of kilometers away, the Council is exploring “the means to strengthen and make more effective United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the Swedish government said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom welcomed the decision to hold the meeting in Sweden, “where there is a long tradition of peaceful conflict prevention and resolution.”
But as she arrived in Backakra on Saturday morning she warned against being too hopeful the Syrian issue would be resolved over the weekend.
“Hopefully there will be some new ideas on the table and I think it’ll be on those tracks: the humanitarian situation, the chemical weapons,” she said.
But “not even the beautiful settings like these can solve all the problems,” the minister added.
The country’s deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau said the idea was to foster dialogue and “relaunch momentum” with “humility and patience,” a week after the air strikes by France, Britain and the United States against the Syrian regime.
“It’s important for the council’s credibility,” Skau told reporters in New York.
While the war in Syria is not the only topic of the deliberations, it is high up on the agenda because it was an issue that divided council members deeply in recent months.
Skau said Backakra was a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.