An Indian court sentenced a teenager to three years in a detention centre over the fatal gang-r*pe of a student, prompting the victim’s angry family to declare women are “not safe in India”.
The juveniles’ court found the teenager guilty over the brutal assault on a moving bus in New Delhi last December, in the first and long-delayed verdict on the incident that sparked outrage over India’s treatment of women.
The family of the 23-year-old victim reacted with anger and dismay, calling for the teenager to be hanged and reigniting debate about whether India is too lenient on its juvenile offenders.
“It’s a crime to be born a girl in India,” the victim’s father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in angry comments to NDTV outside the court.
“Girls are not safe in India,” he added, stressing that the family would continue to fight for a tougher punishment.
His daughter, a physiotherapy student, died of internal injuries two weeks after being raped and assaulted with an iron bar allegedly by six men on the night of December 16. Her male companion was also beaten up before both were thrown bleeding from the bus.
The teenager, who was 17 at the time of the attack, was given the maximum penalty on Saturday after he was tried as a juvenile, and the three years will include the time he has already spent in custody.
“He has been held guilty for rape and murder and sentenced to three years subject to review,” Anil Sharma, the chief investigating officer in the case, told reporters outside the court in the capital.
The teenager’s conduct will be observed during his time in a special juvenile home, and his sentence reviewed and possibly reduced for good behaviour, his lawyer Rajesh Tiwari told AFP.
The perceived leniency of the sentence sparked further anger in India where the suspects, some of whom have been beaten up in jail, are public hate figures.
Outside the court, up to 20 protesters screamed “Hang the juvenile too” and “We want justice.”
Protester Vikas Tyagi told AFP that not only the teenager but “every single juvenile who is involved in such crimes, they should be (all) hanged”.
The separate trial of the four adult suspects in a fast-track court is hearing closing arguments and is expected to wrap up in the next few weeks, with the men facing a possible death sentence if convicted.
The fifth adult, the suspected ring leader, died in jail in an apparent suicide.
The attack brought simmering anger about endemic sex crime in India to the boil, and sparked weeks of sometimes violent street protests in the country.
The outrage pushed parliament to pass a new law toughening sentences for r*pists, while there was a round of public soul-searching over the rising tide of violence against women.
The Supreme Court this month cleared the way for the principal magistrate, Geetanjli Goel, to deliver the verdict on the juvenile’s case.
It was delayed after a petition was lodged in the Supreme Court by an opposition politician for a review of the juvenile law, arguing suspects aged over 16 accused of serious offences should be tried in adult courts.
The victim’s mother questioned the delay as well as the sentence itself.
“So many times they deferred, they waited for so many days,” the mother said in tears outside the court.
“If they had to give him a three-year sentence why didn’t they give it earlier? Why did they mislead us for so long? We are not happy with this decision.”
Children’s rights groups have called for restraint over the verdict, saying the juvenile justice system seeks to reform and rehabilitate rather than punish.
“In fact, every child coming in conflict with the law is a reflection of the state and society failing that child,” Vijaylakshmi Arora, director of policy and research at Child Relief and You, told AFP.
The juvenile, one of six children, was employed to clean the bus used for the attack and often slept rough or inside the vehicle, reports say.
He reportedly left his impoverished home in a village in northern Uttar Pradesh state at the age of 11 to live in Delhi, where he worked in a string of menial jobs until landing the job of cleaning the bus.