By Frank Jack Daniel | Reuters
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – It’s no surprise the Indian street wants faster, harsher justice for sexual crimes after a horrific gang rape that rocked the nation, but some activists worry the government will trample fundamental rights in its rush to be in tune with popular rage.
Last month’s rape of a physiotherapy student on a moving bus and her death on December 28 in hospital triggered a national debate about how to better protect women in India, where official data shows one rape is reported on average every 20 minutes.
Many women’s rights groups are cautiously hopeful the protests and outrage that followed the crime can be channeled into real change – fast-track courts for sexual offences and a plan to hire 2,500 new women police in Delhi are measures already in the works.
But legal experts and some feminists are worried that calls to make rape punishable with death and other draconian penalties will cramp civil liberties and are unconstitutional. They say India needs better policing and prosecutions, not new laws.
“If there are not enough convictions, it is not because of an insufficiency of law, but it is the insufficiency of material to base the conviction on,” said retired Delhi High Court judge R.S. Sodhi.
Five men have been charged with the student’s rape and murder and will appear before a New Delhi court later on Monday. They are due to be tried in a newly formed fast-track court in the next few weeks. A teenager also accused will likely be tried in a juvenile court.
Ahead of Monday’s court appearance the five still had no defense lawyers – despite extensive interrogations by the police, who have said they have recorded confessions – after members of the bar association in the South Delhi district where the case is being heard vowed not to represent them.