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India Court Convicts 4 Men In Fatal Gang Rape


A judge in New Delhi has just delivered his guilty verdict for four men who raped and murdered a young woman on a city bus back in December. It was one of the most high profile cases in Indian history. The horrific crime stirred a national debate over the country's lax prosecution of crimes against women and became an international issue as well. We talk to NPR's Julie McCarthy who was at the courthouse. Good morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The verdict has just come out and beyond the guilty verdicts, what did the judge say?

MCCARTHY: Renee, he threw the book at these four men. He said what they had done was cruel and inhuman, and he went to great lengths to describe the crime. He talked about how they lured this woman onto a bus. They turned off the lights. She believed she was on a normal bus; she wasn't at all. They pinned her down. They took turns raping her.

They threw her off the bus naked. They stole all her belongings. And everyone was found equally guilty. So guilty on gang rape, guilty for murder, guilty for kidnapping and unnatural offenses, which really speaks to the brutality of this attack, Renee. And while this was going on, the parents of that victim, who were a fixture in these proceedings, they sat just a few feet from the accused, this is the moment that that family - and the country - have been waiting for, for eight long months.

The sentencing, the fate, of these men is still unknown. Possibly tomorrow will be the first hearing on that.

MONTAGNE: And I gather outside the courtroom there were protestors chanting: Hang them! Hang them! That is one of the possible sentences, right?

MCCARTHY: That's exactly right. They could face the death penalty or they could face life imprisonment. The political pressure here to mete out the most extreme punishment - this has become a huge case in this country. The government was under intense pressure. Under that pressure it stiffened the anti-rape laws. It toughened them up and made for more robust sentences. And so there is a sense that someone's likely to get the death penalty tomorrow. We're just not certain yet.

MONTAGNE: This murder trial has been hugely publicized but what has it meant for Indian courts and how they handle sexual assault cases?

MCCARTHY: Well, it did inaugurate a fast track court system in Delhi. And what that means is that a court specially and exclusively will deal with the questions of sexual assault. And that should help things here, Renee, because there were more than 200,000 crimes against women committed in India last year and the conviction rates for rape alone is less than 25 percent.

And that's a function of court forensics, cases languish for years, people lose interest. And what you wind up is this culture of immunity. The fast track courts would help suppress that. Since this case last December, there have been more than 400 cases of rape in the first four months of this year. What you're finding is more women are now encouraged to report sexual assault.

Can you say the incidents have fallen? No, you can't. But with tougher penalties under the law can you say that that will be a deterrent? It's still too early to say. The country just really formulated those new more robust laws in April.

MONTAGNE: And Julie, just look back and tell us why this case seems to have made such a difference?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think, you know, in a country where sex crimes are so prevalent, one woman, this 23 year old woman, she just became a symbol of sexual assault and someone who resisted her attackers. And she captured the Indian imagination. And from there they went to the streets and they brought a government to its knees to change the laws.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi. Thanks very much, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Renee.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.
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