For the second day in a row, the companion of the medical student who was fatally gang-raped on a bus in Delhi was in court today. Yesterday, he testified as a witness for the prosecution against the five men who have pleaded not guilty to charges including rape and murder. Today, their lawyers cross-examined the software engineer who uses a wheelchair because of the injuries inflicted on him in the heinous attack. His cross-examination will continue tomorrow.
The trial of the case that spurred massive protests and calls for tougher anti-rape laws and better protection for women is being conducted in-camera or behind closed doors at a fast-track court in Delhi, very near the mall where the student and her friend watched 'Life of Pi' before boarding the bus which turned into a crime scene of unmitigated horror.
The police says a gang of six men attacked the engineer with an iron rod and threw him to the back of the bus before taking turns to rape the 23-year-old student. The couple was then thrown naked and bleeding on the road. In a television interview, the student's friend said that he heard the men discussing whether to run her over which prompted him to push her out of their way.
Amanat (NOT her real name) died in a Singapore hospital two weeks later; before she was flown out of the country, she recorded her testimony for a magistrate from bed in the Intensive Care Unit of a Delhi hospital.
The five men being tried for gang-rape and murder face the death penalty, if convicted. A sixth suspect is being tried separately as a juvenile, and faces a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility, a punishment described as a travesty by Amanat's family. "We want all the six men hanged," her father said yesterday.
The government fumbled in its response to anger and grief that spread across India after the gang-rape. Last week, to telegraph its determination to tackle crimes against women more effectively, the government introduced an ordinance which toughens anti-rape laws. The ordinance, which is effective immediately, allows the death sentence for cases of rape which leave the victim dead or in a coma.
Activists have dismissed the ordinance as hurried and incomplete, largely because it ignores many of the recommendations of a commission of three legal experts, who submitted their report to the government last month. Headed by former Chief Justice JS Verma, the commission did not recommend the death penalty even for extreme rape cases; it asked for marital rape to be recognized as a criminal offence and for members of the armed forces to be tried in regular courts for sexual crimes. The government has not included these recommendations in its ordinance.