India’s opposition yesterday said it would seek tougher punishments for juveniles after the first verdict in the New Delhi gang rape case saw a teenager sentenced to three years’ detention, sparking widespread anger.
The rape and murder of a 23-year-old student by six attackers on a moving bus in December last year sparked nationwide protests and led to reforms that mandated longer sentences for adult sex offenders.
Sushma Swaraj, opposition leader in the lower house of the Indian parliament, said she would introduce a bill this week to amend the law for juveniles.
“This meager punishment of just three years does not do justice,” Swaraj wrote on Twitter.
“The sentence must commensurate with the gravity of the offence irrespective of the age of the offender,” she added.
On Saturday, a juvenile court in New Delhi sentenced the only under age suspect in the gang — who was 17 at the time of the crime — to three years in a correctional facility.
This was the maximum sentence under India’s law, which treats all under-18s as children and seeks to reform rather than punish them.
“TRAVESTY: December 16 teen rapist ‘gets away’ with murder,” a headline in the tabloid Mail Today read, summing up the mood.
The convicted teen will spend about 28 months in a juvenile detention center, having already spent about eight months in custody awaiting the verdict.
“He can watch TV, play games while doing time,” the Hindustan Times reported, while saying that police sources had earlier described the teenager as “the most brutal” of the six attackers.
The Times of India said the gang rape victim had “been denied justice” by the juvenile court.
Subramanian Swamy, a politician from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the teenager “should have been executed” and he intended to file an appeal against Saturday’s court order.
Swamy has already lodged a petition in the Indian Supreme Court challenging India’s juvenile law for not taking the gravity of a crime into account during sentencing.
“It’s ridiculous to think you can reform a person who has committed a heinous crime, who has raped and murdered a young woman in such a brutal fashion,” he added.
According to the teenager’s defense lawyer, his conduct will be observed and the sentence could be reduced for good behavior.
News emerged on Saturday evening of another attack in the Noida suburb of the capital, where a woman was allegedly gang raped by five attackers, including two police constables.
The Press Trust of India said the 25-year-old victim was attacked while visiting a male friend, who was also assaulted by the gang of five. Last month, a 22-year-old photographer was gang raped in Mumbai while taking pictures at an abandoned mill in a posh part of the commercial capital.
Protesters outside the juvenile court on Saturday and the victim’s family called for the teenager to be hanged.
The victim, a physiotherapy student, died of internal injuries two weeks after being raped and assaulted with an iron bar on the night of Dec. 16 last year. Her male companion was beaten up before both were thrown bleeding from the bus.
A 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 ringleader, died in jail in what has been reported as suicide.