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Life term in pace-setting rape case

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OUR CORRESPONDENT   |   Delhi   |   Published 17.01.05, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Jan. 17: A Delhi court today sentenced to life imprisonment the prime accused and his accomplice in the gangrape of a medical student after a rare in-camera trial that delivered quick justice.

Just over two years ago, Rahul and Amit had accosted the fourth year student of Maulana Azad Medical College when she was crossing the road in front of her college with a knife and raped her in the middle of the day on the terrace of a Mughal period gate on a busy central Delhi thoroughfare.

?(The) convicts have been held guilty of committing gangrape on an unmarried helpless girl who was a medical student. Such act of bestiality deserves stringent punishment. They do not deserve any mercy and have to be given exemplary punishment so that it acts as a deterrent to others also,? additional district and sessions judge Chander Shekhar said.

The court held an in-camera trial where the public is not allowed, an example that lawyers and women?s organisations held up as a model for legal proceedings in a rape case in which victims are often intimidated by the fear of publicity.

The judge awarded the maximum punishment of life imprisonment and two additional sentences ? of seven and two years each ? but these would run concurrently. He also slapped a fine of Rs 18,000 on Rahul and Rs 17,000 on Amit.

In awarding life sentence, Shekhar cited a Supreme Court judgment that ?public abhorrence of the crime needs a reflection through the court?s verdict in the measure of punishment?.

He rejected the defence argument for a reduced sentence on the ground that this was a first offence, saying: ?Murder destroys the physical frame of the victim. But a rapist degrades the soul of a helpless female, in consequence whereupon the victim suffers and dies everyday.?

The rape at Khooni Darwaza on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg on November 15, 2002, had shaken Delhi.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising said it was rare for such cases to be decided so quickly. ?There is so much of criticism about the judiciary not functioning. But this time they have actually proven themselves by giving a quick verdict.?

Some 35 witnesses testified in the case, none of them turning hostile. The police worked with the victim, providing counselling to convince her to come forward and testify. Initially reluctant to lodge a complaint, the victim went to the Indra Prastha Estate police station and identified the accused. Rahul was arrested on November 22 based on the girl?s lead that the rapist bore a tattoo, ?Rahul?, on his forearm.

The defence counsel had argued that Rahul was a minor. However, the police conducted a bone ossification test to prove that the accused was aged between 19 and 22. Rahul, also known as Budh Prakash, is the son of a municipal employee.

Keerti Singh, also a Supreme Court lawyer and a member of the All India Democratic Women?s Association legal cell, pointed out that ?no bigwigs were involved? in the case.

?This case should be taken as a precedent because in cases like rape, it is better that they are decided quickly. If it takes too long, most of the time the cases are non-conclusive. It should set an example.?

Singh pressed for rape trials to be held in a situation where the victim does not have to confront the accused. ?When she has to come in front of the rapist, she is intimidated. We should have a trial process that is non-intimidatory. We should explore all methods, whether it is videoconferencing or simpler methods like putting a screen between the victim and the accused.?

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