Jyoti Singh Pandey Rape: India Prepares For Trial Of 6 Accused in Gang Rape Death

If you haven't been following the story, on December 16 there was a brutal and ultimately fatal attack on a 23-year-old medical student named Jyoti Singh Pandey. Lured into a bus in New Delhi, India, that was supposed to take them home, Pandey and a male friend were severely beaten and she was repeatedly raped. Both were thrown out of the moving bus after hours of torture. The attack and her tragic death a week later sparked a long-sitting anger in many in India, primarily young people in the capital city.  

Indian law actually prohibits rape victims or survivors' names from being released unless allowed by the family, in the case of their death. On January 5, Pandey's father told the Daily Mirror that his daughter was not in the wrong; a big statement as a common sentiment in India is that women are to blame for their own rape or assault. He goes on to say, "I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter."

In his first public interview since that fateful day, the victim's friend gave his grisly account of what happened.   

With DNA evidence and eyewitness accounts, police were able to arrest five men and a minor with kidnapping, rape, and murder. Based on the outraged protesters and media frenzy in the past few weeks, the court in Delhi has banned the public from the proceedings which begin on January 7. The five suspects arrived under heavy police presence on Monday at the Metropolitan Magistrates' Court in the southern New Delhi district of Saket. As is an issue in all cases like this one, representation of the accused was controversial, with several members of the city bar association agreeing not to represent them. In a bold move, the court magistrate Namrita Aggarwal asked that no reports of the proceedings be released without the court's permission on grounds of safety of the accused. This act begs the question, if the courts had been concerned about the safety of women in Delhi, would there still be a trial of this magnitude? A pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, January 10. 

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, in charge of the police force, fielded harsh criticism for the water cannons and tear gas used by police against protesters last week. To appease growing fury, he has indicated several female officers will be hired in an alleged move to increase safety for women. This is small but important public relations move for Shinde, but considering they will still be working for a force that does not deem it necessary to file rape cases, there are no indications of how this will help in the long run.   

Regarding the protests, I was told by Delhi-based deputy news editor of the Hindustan Times Raghav Chopra, that the protests are calming down for the time being as people see the justice carrying on its course quickly, as opposed to the notorious wait millions of back-logged cases face in India.  He tells me that, "there are two burning questions right now" cycling through politicians and protesters alike. The legal question is how to prosecute the supposedly most violent of the accused, the minor in question. Since he is just shy of 18, Chopra says according to the "Juvenile Justice Act ... the accused can be sentenced to a maximum prison term of three years, irrespective of the crime they are charged with. It also has a provision for bail once the police file the charge sheet." Many are calling for a change in the law to take into consideration the severity of the crime committed. The social question looms in the media all around the world. Politicians and government officials' controversial statements have, as Chopra indicates, "exposed the great divide in Indian society, bringing to the fore a mindset which is far removed from the predominantly urban middle class public protests which were seen as a spontaneous reaction to the crime."  

You can find more information here and here about what's been going on with the Jyoti Singh Pandey story. As is India is the world's largest democracy, the fight for women's rights in the country has a potentially huge impact.