NEW DELHI: An Indian court is expected to deliver the first verdict this week on one of five suspects tried over the fatal gang-rape of a student, which triggered outrage and protests across the country.
A juveniles’ court in New Delhi has finished hearing the case of the youngest suspect, who was 17 at the time of the horrific assault on the 23-year-old woman on a moving bus in the capital.
Principal Magistrate Geetanjli Goel had been expected to announce the verdict to a packed court on July 11, but deferred her decision on the case until Thursday.
The victim’s family has called for the teenager to be tried as an adult, alongside five men initially arrested over the assault on December 16.
“He committed the worst crime and even if he is a minor, the accused should not be allowed to walk free after three years,” the victim’s father told AFP this week, referring to the maximum sentence the juvenile could receive.
The physiotherapy student was allegedly beaten, raped and tortured with an iron rod by six people, after getting onto the bus with a friend as they made their way home from the cinema.
She died two weeks later from internal injuries inflicted during the attack, a crime that brought simmering anger about endemic sex crime in India to the boil.
Several weeks of sometimes violent protests spurred parliament to pass a new law toughening sentences for rapists, while public soul-searching sought answers to the rising tide of violence against women.
The adults and the juvenile were charged with murder, rape, kidnap, robbery and conspiracy.
The trial of the four adults continues in a separate court and is expected to wrap up in the next few months. They face possible death sentences if convicted. The fifth adult, alleged ringleader Ram Singh, died in jail in an apparent suicide in March.
If found guilty, the teenager, a runaway who reportedly left home aged 11, can be sent to a correctional facility for a maximum three-year term, which includes the time he has already spent in custody.
The teenager, the youngest of six children according to his mother, was employed to clean the bus allegedly used for the attack and often slept rough or inside the vehicle, reports say.
He has denied any involvement in the crime.
The maximum sentence of three years is likely to cause further outrage in India, where the suspects are public hate figures.
Earlier this month a court found the juvenile guilty of robbing a carpenter who had boarded the same bus as the student earlier in the evening.
Public prosecutor Madhav Khurana said that the robbery case was separate from the alleged gang rape.
“He (the juvenile) has been found guilty in the robbery case but the verdict on the gang rape case will be on July 25,” he told AFP.
Since the December incident, dozens of rapes of Indian women and foreign tourists have been highlighted in the media. The December attack forced India to confront the reality that women are often blamed for the crimes committed against them, forcing many to keep quiet and discouraging them from reporting attacks to authorities.
Activists say passing new, strong laws is not enough, and that the government must ensure that police and the justice system respond swiftly and efficiently to crimes against women.