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Rape report rebukes Delhi police, Indian government over apathy

The gang rape and murder of a student in New Delhi reflected a collapse in governance in India where lawmakers and the police fail to ensure basic protections for women, a retired chief justice said in a report.

Berating India’s home secretary, the capital’s police force and its citizens for their indifference at the time of the attack on the woman and her friend aboard a moving bus last month, J.S. Verma said yesterday a change in attitudes and better education were more important than introducing new laws.

“Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment eroding the rule of law, and not the want of major legislation,” Verma said at a press conference before the report was made public. His three-member panel was set up by the government after the rape to recommend ways to make women safer.

The brutal attack on the medical student as she returned home from the cinema Dec. 16 shocked India and reverberated around the world, triggering street protests and drawing attention to the scale of sexual violence against women in the world’s largest democracy.

Verma said he decided to complete his report within 30 days so the government could act on the panel’s suggestions in the session of parliament expected to begin next month. Verma said he received 80,000 recommendations from around the world.

Verma outlined a series of steps the panel would like to see introduced, including making the failure of the police to officially record a rape accusation a criminal offense and ensuring greater sensitivity among the police and doctors gathering evidence of sexual assaults.

The Indian government and the country’s most senior police officials were singled out for criticism by Verma, India’s top judge from 1997 to 1998. He said he was outraged by the decision of Home Secretary R.K. Singh in the aftermath of the attack to praise Delhi’s top police official for his handling of the case.

“I was shocked when I saw the incident with the police commissioner of Delhi being given a pat on the back for his prompt action,” Verma said. The least the government should have done was seek an apology from the police for failing to fulfill its duty of ensuring the safety of citizens, the former judge said.

Verma said the appointment of India’s most senior policemen should be reviewed after the majority of them failed to respond to his requests for recommendations. He described their feedback as “laughable.”

“Police reforms are very important if you have director generals of police who think they can ignore paying any attention to this important issue,” Verma said.

The gang rape set off a charged debate in a country where a woman was raped every 22 minutes in 2011, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. There were 572 cases of rape reported in New Delhi that year, a 23 percent increase from 2008. The rise may reflect a greater confidence in reporting assaults.

Five men charged with the woman’s murder and kidnapping will appear tomorrow at a specially convened fast-track court in New Delhi. A sixth person charged is appearing before a juvenile justice board as he’s believed to be under 18.

The Supreme Court is considering a petition filed by the defense lawyer of one of the accused demanding the trial be moved from the capital to ensure a fair hearing.

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