The Committe on Amendments to Criminal Law is not a body most would expect to be efficient or timely in a place like India, but that is just what they were with what people are now calling the 'Verma Report.' Retired Justice J.S. Verma and his Committee have issued a lengthy almost-650 page report on the need for change of sexual assault and rape laws in the country, their enforcement, and the judicial processes associated.
In a country where Darrell Issa (CA-49) is still allowed to hold an entire hearing on birth control without a single woman present or allowed to testify, the woman on the Committee weighs in on the report she co-authored:
- In part because one of the accused in the Delhi trial is 17 and technically a minor and several of the 80,000 suggestions received from the public by the Committee, Verma recommends lowering the age when an accused rapist can be tried as an adult to 16.
- The Report says that the police are to blame in part for the large number of brutal rapes occuring and that it should be mandatory for police officers to register every case of reported rape, whether they feel it is socially acceptable or not. Verma makes an important distinction between law and culture here.
-Corruption is open and rampant in India, from politicians to policeman. In most cases, the bribes are relatively harmless and just the way you do business in the rest of the world. However, there is a dangerous and detrimental kind of corruption as well. In addition, the police in Delhi were seen as unnecessarily violent towards protesters back in late December, using tear gas, water cannons, and charging at people with batons. Verma is asking for a re-examination of every appointed state police chief in the country.
Despite India's best efforts to combat the disgusting delays its citizens face in the judicial system, the Supreme Court has once again proven why there is a serious need for an overhaul of the courts. The Court was supposed to decide today whether or not the defense motion brough forth by attorney Manohar Lal Sharma to move the trial outside of Delhi in order to get a fairer trial for his client, Mukesh Singh.
The three judges presiding on the bench cited mysterious 'technical problems' and pushed the hearing until 11 a.m. on Wednesday, January 23rd.
Unconfirmed reports say that the delay was caused by other attorneys attending the hearing. No doubt the issue is frought with legal and social complications. Will protests be reignited by moving the trial to another city? Given the attention brought about by the case, is there a chance for a 'fair' hearing at all for the suspects?
Jyoti Singh Pandey's mother is outraged and heartbroken. In an interview with the BBC she expressed anger because "those who criticised Indian women for adopting Western dress and lifestyles were "sexist and irresponsible" and were in effect condoning rape." Her distraught father tells media, "We have finished the mourning rituals for my daughter in the village but our mourning will not end until the court passes down its verdict. My daughter's soul will only rest in peace after the court punishes the men."
As Sonia Gandhi finally comments to media that she feels the behavior of men involved in the laundry list of heinous gang rapes being reported is "shameful," the trial for the five adult suspects has begun.
As we've reported before the legal team involved in the case provide just as much news as does the case itself. Trial was delayed by more than an hour as two issues were raised by the accused attorneys.
First, the gag order on media in the courtroom will remain as Judge Yogesh Khanna denied defendant's motion to remove it. The second issue raised was a concern for many who are demanding fast-track/'rocket docket' for all rape cases in an Indian judicial system that is infamous for delays of several years. Attorney for defendants requested the trial be moved to a court outside of the capital city, claiming their clients would be unable to get a fair trial in Delhi. Judge Khanna has agreed to consider the request but it remains to be seen how protesters will react if it is approved on January 22nd.
Opening statements will be delivered Thursday, January 24th and will continue every day of the week.
Lawyer for Pawan Gupta, one of the six accused of kidnapping, rape, and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, has told reporters that, "the magistrate has committed the case to the sessions court which is fast-track." The first hearing will be held January 21st.
If convicted, the five adult men could be sentenced to death. Lawyers for the accused claim they were tortured by police and now abused by fellow prisoners.
Notorious for years of backlog having nothing to do with the large number of judges and magistrates available, the Indian courts have chosen to 'fast-track' the case. The Indian government plans on sending all rape cases to a 'rocket docket,' but no word on the exact procedures. As is the case with most laws in India, it's shrouded in unnecessarily complicated language and delays.
In Punjab, another survivor of a brutal rape took her life as Jyoti Singh Pandey was being flown to Singapore for what would be her last days. The victim was only 17 years old and named her attackers in a note, saying they ruined her life. She soon succumbed to the pesticides she ingested.
There has been some debate in the comments section here and previous articles on the events in Delhi regarding the reporting of the event and varying viewpoints on India's state of equal rights.
Here are three important articles well worth the read on the topic in order to have a more productive discussion on women's rights and gender equality in the subcontinent and abroad. It seemed useless to wax poetic yet again about weighing criticism with cultural understanding, so I will let these articles do that instead.
From Poynter, a primer on how the rapes in Steubenville and Delhi have been covered by the media and why.
Nicholas Kristof has traveled the world and written extensively about human rights and women's rights in particular. Here, in the New York Times piece, he tackles the differences and similarities of Steubenville and Delhi.
Over at Feministing, Samhita Mukhopadhyay has written an excellent and thought-provoking piece reacting to Kristof's op-ed.
As with most high profile or controversial trials, the lawyers become part of the story as the six suspects on trial, bearing in mind the commentary in that link.
Ajay Prakash Singhis representing Vinay Sharma, a 20-year-old gym assistant, and Akshay Kumar, a 28-year-old bus cleaner.
Manohar Lal Sharmarepresents Mukesh Singh, 26, who allegedly drove the bus on the night of December 16th.
Sharma infamously reminded the world that he had never seen an incident of rape "with a respected lady." And the world reminded him, maybe they had not seen a trial with a 'respected attorney.'
Of course, under Indian law, the suspects are allowed legal representation and there was quite the clamor in the local bar association regarding that matter, with several refusing to do it on grounds of the viciousness of the crime and the subsequent public outrage.
As if the gaffes of the Indian government in the initial days after mass protests began in Delhi and discussion of women's rights and gender equality was going strong, religious 'leaders' inserted their comments with pseudo-political backing in recent weeks.
Chief among them is Asaram Bapu, a self-appointed spiritual guru. On January 8, the Times of Indiareported that in a speech to his followers Bapu claimed that if Pandey had recited a certain prayer, she would not have stepped on that bus and suffered the same fate. This is the kind of comment even devout Hindus I have spoken to think is asinine at best, dangerous at worst to blind faith followers of his.
Fancying himself a victim of public outrage and vandalism to his property, Bapu now claims he was misquoted, going so far as to offer a substantial reward to any who can prove he was blaming the victim. So, where's my reward?!
Ashok Singhal, a leader in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) threw his support behind Bapu. The VHP, in my view is akin to a more political version of a religious 'party,' replete with lobbying efforts in Parliament and initiating protests and conflicts for Hindu rights. In true paranoid religious leader fashion, Singhal claims that any attack on Bapu's comments is an attack on Hinduism, going on to say "foreign powers have been pumping a lot of money into the country to damage Hinduism." He does not represent the majority.
December 16th is proving to be the first domino in a long line of dormant issues needing discussion.
Today in Delhi was the first day of hearings for the five accused adults in the kidnapping, gang rape, and murder case. The majority of cases in India experience notorious delays of several years. As protests were raging a few weeks ago, panicked government officials promised to set up a 'fast track' or 'rocket docket' court for crimes of violence against women, specifically rape and sexual assault. There was an expectation the case would be moved to a fast track status, but that decision was not made by the magistrate just yet.
The next hearing day is scheduled for January 17th as the suspects stay under heavy guard with no official photos released to the media not just to protect them, but their families from any potential backlash. Details are murky because press have been banned from the proceedings, but reports claim there are no clear signs pointing to a 'fast track' decision on the next hearing day.
Government officials have also made a special plea to the board adjudicating minors in order to have the sixth suspect, who claims to be under 18, tried in the same 'fast track' court as the other 5 suspects.
Jyoti Singh Pandey: LIVE Updates On India Gang Rape Case
The story of a woman's tragic death following her gang rape in India was not getting much attention outside the region a few weeks ago, but when the world's largest democracy fights for women's rights, it's important to pay attention. PolicyMic has been covering the protests from the beginning. With government and political actors playing their part, protesters stood unwavering in their support for 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, revealing much about India and the gap between a government and its people.
As the trial progresses we'll be providing continual updates. For more descriptive analysis of the events and issues, please click on any of the links above to previous coverage by PolicyMic.
January 9: At the pre-trial hearing today, three of the five adult males accused of kidnapping, rape, and murder have plead not guilty to all charges. Lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, representing the accused, has claimed the suspects were tortured by police, with confessions being beaten out of them. He told Reuters, "We are only hearing what the police are saying. This is manipulated evidence. It's all on the basis of hearsay and presumption." He's playing up on the widespread knowledge that Indian police will accept bribes, bow to public pressures in lieu of thorough investigations, and are corrupt in urban forces. Sharma's defense also includes blaming Awindra Pandey, saying he was responsible for his friend's tragic end.
Hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil, and...
January 7: With DNA evidence and eyewitness accounts, police were able to arrest five men and a minor with kidnapping, rape, and murder. Based on the outraged protesters and media frenzy in the past few weeks, the court in Delhi has banned the public from the proceedings.
January 4-6: The victim's friend and eyewitness, Awindra Pandey, gives his first television interview, detailing the vicious attack.
The government once again makes a case for harsh critics. Indian law prohibits the name of rape survivors from being released to the public; in the case of victims, the family's permission is needed. However, there is no such law prohibiting as such the details of these heinous crimes as Pandey relays to Zee TV. Unfortunately, the journalist is now in trouble with police. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports:
December 29: A few days before, Jyoti was airlifted to a hospital in Singapore due to the severity of her injuries. She passed away there, while the news angered protesters who held candlelight vigils in her honor. Her death renewed cries against the government, many saying they transferred her outside the country on purpose to avoid potential violence.
December 26: Tensions continue to escalate as a police officer dies during the anti-rape protests.
December 24: It took an entire week of angry and violent protests for the subdued and ,some would say, infuriatingly quiet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address the crowds on his doorstep, being hit with tear gas. When he did, it was to tell them to calm down.
India's Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, in charge of police, was one of the earliest government officials to comment on the anti-rape protests. After peaceful protesters were charged with batons, water cannons, and tear gas, Shinde compared the youth protesting to violent Maoists, thus justifying police violence against the crowd.
As Soutvik Biswas writes for BBC regarding one of Shinde's chiefs, "The city police commissioner told a news channel that even men were unsafe in Delhi as 'their pockets were picked'"
December 22-23: Protesters continue to gather near India Gate in Delhi, fittingly close to the houses of Parliament. Anger erupted over police and government incompetence. As a response the police charged the crowd with batons, water cannons and tear gas. The feeling around Delhi had many in the media comparing it to Tahrir Square in 2011.
Due to the lack of mainstream media coverage in the States, I was left wondering whether the protests were being blown out of proportion by the zeal of the Tweet, but Raghav Chopra, a Delhi-based news editor at the Hindustan Times, said to me, "Yes, people really are angry. This incident has struck a chord with the youth who have taken to the streets to vent their anger. This public display of their angst comes on the heels of the anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare which has instilled a belief, especially in the youth, that it is time they participate in Indian democracy actively."
As writer and journalist Nilanjana Roy relayed from the protests, this incident was just the straw that broke the camel's back. There were "many calls for hanging/ castration/ torture of the rapists" — while I understand the emotion behind this, mob justice and lynch mobs are certainly not what you want in the long term. Roy heard echoes among the crowd that the media's exposing of the details of the attack were shocking but necessary, and that many women around urban areas of the country said, "It could have been me, out in that bus."
Week of December 22: As Shiv Aroor, Deputy Editor of Headlines Todayand based in New Delhi, explains: "The protests weren't organized, they were almost entirely spontaneous. This is hardly the first violent crime against a woman in Delhi, or anywhere in India, but I think the brutality and audacity of the crime has astonished people. There appears to be a real hope that the reaction to this crime serves as a tipping point." It was never any secret that women's rights and gender equality were sorely lacking, despite the rapidly growing economy and internationalization of India, but now there was a generation in India demonstrating that they did not want to put up with it. It's that rage-inducing irony of a majority Hindu country that continually prays to goddesses of all forms celestial, then leers at, chastises, shames, beats, and rapes the human female form.
December 16: Jyoti Singh Pandey and her male friend Awindra Pandey were out in New Delhi in the late evening hours, heading home after watching a movie. The two were lured onto a private bus, seen throughout the capital city, and promised a ride home. Approximately two hours later the two were thrown out of the moving bus, naked, beaten, and bleeding. Jyoti had endured several men raping her as well. She was so badly injured, she was unconscious and had internal bleeding and broken bones.