The Fearless One: Rape Trial Galvanizes India

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Wieland Wagner, August 20, 2013 (Photo GalleryTranslated from the German by Christopher Sultan – Linked with our new blog: politics for the 99%).

The horrific gang rape that killed Indian physical therapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey last December created an international uproar. Now, the trial is approaching a verdict amid heightened emotions and accusations that one of the defendants was murdered … //

… A Symbol of the Public’s Rage:  

Investigators have assembled the gruesome details of the case, and Indian legal experts expect the defendants to be sentenced by the end of August. The case has already changed the country. In the past, men treated women as open game, rapes were normal and the police and courts never did much to combat them. But after Jyoti’s death, tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide to demand the death penalty for the perpetrators. They called the victim Nirbhaya, or “the fearless one.” India’s rising urban middle class identified with the modern young woman, who was — until her path was brutally cut short by India’s traditional male-dominated society — in the process of escaping poverty by going to school. Jyoti also became a symbol of the public’s rage against politicians and the police, who had showed little interest in protecting women. The Indian public had been repeatedly shaken by new rape cases, but this time the public’s anger forced the government to act. In March, the parliament in Delhi passed a law that provides harsher penalties for rapists, including the death penalty in especially severe cases. The judiciary also pledged to prosecute rapes in expedited courts in the future. In this trial, it will have to demonstrate that it means business.

A Brutally Horrific Crime: … //

… An Attorney on a Mission:

In the trial of the adult defendants, attorney Singh finally appears in the courtroom. Unlike most of the lawyers in the room, he is not wearing a black robe. Instead, Singh is dressed in white from head to foot, an outfit often worn in public by Indian politicians. In addition to working as an attorney, Singh heads the tiny Bhartiya Sampurn Krantikari — “India’s Total Revolution” — party. The party promises to rid the subcontinent of all possible evils: corruption, the caste system, racism, unemployment and, of course, violence against women. However, it has yet to win any seats in parliament. Critics say that Singh, who is defending two of the accused, has taken on the case merely to boost his public image and attract attention to his party. But taking on the case also required courage. The local bar association had forbidden its members from defending the men. Those lawyers who refused to comply were treated with hostility, creating chaotic scenes. For months, the court closed the trial to the public. We meet with Singh in his house in northwestern Delhi. An SUV loaded with loudspeakers and posters is parked in front. Singh uses the vehicle to tour the streets during campaigns. He takes a seat behind a large desk. He now regrets the decision to take on the defense of the two men, he says. “Many other clients have dropped me, because I no longer have enough time for them.” The trial is very time-consuming, requiring Singh to appear in court almost daily. He characterizes the trial as “emotionally and financially” draining.

Emotions Run High in Court: … //

… Was a Defendant Murdered? … //

… Our Life is Destroyed:

Now Jyoti’s distraught mother sits in her tiny hut in the southern part of Delhi. The unpaved road outside is ripped up at the moment, while workers install sewage pipes, a luxury in this poor neighborhood. Residents believe the gesture is the government’s attempt to show compassion for the family of the fearless one. Jyoti’s mother says that she could hardly bear to appear in court, where she came face to face with her daughter’s presumed killers. They were sitting in a row along the rear wall of the courtroom. “Our life is destroyed,” she says. Only one piece of news has given her a small amount of relief in recent months: the news of the death of bus driver Ram Singh in his cell.
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