By Udayan Namboodiri for Khabar South Asia in New Delhi April 15, 2014
A pair of court rulings in high-profile rape cases sends a strong message that Indians no longer tolerate sexual violence against women.
In a landmark decision, a court in Mumbai on April 4th sentenced three men to death for taking part in separate gang rapes of two women at an abandoned textile mill last year. That same day, a high court in Kerala handed prison sentences to two dozen men acquitted in 2005 of charges in a 1996 multiple rape case. That 16-year old victim was raped at least 41 times over a 40-day period.
"Times have become hard for rapists in India," Maharashtra State Women's Commission chairperson Sushiben Shah told Khabar South Asia. The Mumbai ruling marked the first case in which repeat offenders received a capital sentence under newly toughened Indian anti-rape laws. The legal changes followed outcry over the December 2012 case of a 23-year-old medical student who died after being gang-raped aboard a New Delhi bus. Four of the woman's six assailants received death sentences, a juvenile received jail time and prior to trial, a sixth alleged assailant was found dead of suspected suicide in his cell.
Now under the Indian Penal Code's revised section 376(e), repeat rapists can face capital punishment.
"There needs to be zero tolerance for such incidents,"Judge Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi said in handing down the sentences in Mumbai, according to AFP. "A loud and clear message needs to be sent to society." The judge sentenced Vijay Jadhav, Kasim Bengali (also known as Mohammad Qasim Shaikh) and Mohammed Salim Ansari to death for their roles in an August 22nd, 2013 gang-rape of a female photojournalist at the abandoned Shakti Mills, and a previous July 31st, 2013 gang-rape of a telephone operator at the same site. They are appealing their sentences.
Four men and a minor all took part in the photojournalist's attack. The fourth, Rehman, received a life sentence. The juvenile is being tried by a special court. Mohammed Ashwaq Sheikh, another man who took part only in the late July gang-rape, also received a life sentence, AFP reported. "This has certainly sent a positive signal even though it is an open question whether capital punishment is desirable in a civilised country," National Commission for Women chairperson Mamta Sharma told Khabar.
Slow justice for one
Though the victims of the Mumbai gang rapes got swift justice, such was not the case for the then-teen victim of the 1996 case which originated in Suryanelli in Kerala's Idukki District. On April 4th, a three-judge state High Court bench overturned the lower court's 9-year-old acquittal by sentencing main perpetrator Dharmarajan, to life in prison. The panel also sentenced two co-defendants to 10-year terms. The remaining 21 received terms of at least four years each.
"The miscarriage of justice in the Suryanelli case was a blot on the nation's image," Brinda Karat, a former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP, told Khabar. "Now finally the hapless victims of rape can hope for justice."
Source: http://khabarsouthasia.com/en_GB/articles/apwi/articles/features/2014/04/15/feature-01 [accessed 24 April 2014]