The light sentence given to a juvenile in the New Delhi gang-rape case has sparked widespread bitterness and disappointment. Many are calling for tougher punishments for juveniles involved in serious crimes.
When defense lawyer Rajesh Tiwari announced before a restless and packed crowd that the juvenile accused had been sentenced to three years in a correctional facility for the gang-rape and murder of the medical student in Delhi last year, pandemonium broke loose.
Travesty of justice
Protesters who had gathered outside the juvenile court in large numbers on Saturday went out of control, shouting slogans demanding the death penalty for the convicted teen who was described as the most brutal of the 23-year-old female medical student's six attackers.
"Hang the rapist," "This is a sham" and "We want justice" were some of the slogans that rent the air as family members, who had been patiently waiting for hours, looked predictably forlorn and even angry.
"Is this what I waited all these months to hear? You might as well let him go scot-free. This is not justice. My daughter died a brutal death and now the accused gets away with a few years," Asha Devi, the mother of the victim told DW.
Unable to hold back her tears, a distraught Asha Devi, who interacted with the media for the first time after the horrific gang-rape of her daughter, vowed to appeal against the sentence in the Delhi high court.
"I want justice. I will not accept this judgment and will continue to fight till this monster is given the maximum punishment," she added.
The accused, who was 17 years at the time of the crime, was one of six people accused of luring the student and her male companion into boarding an off-duty bus in the Indian capital on December 16, 2012.
Police said the men raped and brutalized her and savagely beat her companion on the moving bus before dumping them naked on the roadside. The woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
Badrinath Singh, the victim's father was equally crestfallen by the verdict. "We have lost our daughter forever and this is what the court has to say. I am not satisfied with this verdict. What message are you sending out to potential rapists?" Singh told DW.
Rethinking India's juvenile laws
The juvenile board, presided over by Principal Magistrate Geetanjali Goel, gave the minor the maximum punishment that can be awarded under the Juvenile Justice Act. The law treats all those below 18 years as children and seeks to reform rather than punish them.
Given the public anger that has turned the medical student's attackers into public hate figures, hundreds of protesters were upset, some even said they felt cheated by the judgment.
"This is simply unacceptable. We have been protesting for the last eight months hoping for justice. This juvenile will be out in some years and will continue to be a hazard to society," Biju John, an activist, told DW.
"From all available evidence, this delinquent was the most violent among the attackers. I mean this verdict will only encourage further crime because the law is absolutely inadequate," said one of the protesters outside the courthouse Raghav Jain.
Annie Raja, a women rights activist said the verdict would now at least re-open the merits of the juvenile justice act and lead to a closer examination.
India's juvenile justice laws have been under the scanner in recent years, especially for being too lenient on heinous crimes such as rape and murder. Several legal petitions are before the Supreme Court seeking to lower the age of a minor from 18 to 16 but there has been no movement forward.