Delhi rape: Chief Justice of India backs protests

Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir today said the massive public protests that followed the savage gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi last month that subsequently led to her death were justified, and went as far as to say he wished he could have joined the protests.

He, however, added that there was an attempt by parties with ulterior motives to corrupt the outcry for justice for women, the chief justice added.

He described the attack as "the most shameful thing that could have happened" and said he "salutes everybody who took part" in the protests that followed the heinous assault. He added that his nephew was among those roughed up by the police while protesting against the crime.

"What happened that day was not something new ... but it caught the imagination of the people and led to a tremendous upsurge; and this upsurge, as I have said earlier also, was fully justified. What started as a protest, as a mark of showing one's anger, it was all genuine, absolutely necessary," Justice Kabir said.

"I salute everybody who took part (in the protests). I wish I could also have been there, but I can't," he said on the sidelines of the Sixth National Conference on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

He, however, cautioned "that we cannot afford certain types and groups of people from exploiting such situation for their own ends".

"My nephew was also beaten up in the protest (at India Gate)," Justice Kabir said, adding "the protest was later on hijacked".

He said that it started out as a "peaceful protest", but other "things" started coming in and it "became ugly".

While addressing the gathering which comprised of sitting Delhi high court judge Justice Gita Mittal as well as several legal luminaries and academicians among others, Justice Kabir also said that what happened on 16 December was not just a crime against an individual, but against women and society in general.

Referring to the "shameful" incident, Justice Kabir said it has resulted in a tremendous rethinking of "what is going on" in the society.

The chief justice also said there is a need to change the mind-set of the judicial officers who take up such cases.

"Many of us (judges) are quite insensitive. Many of us look to the strict letter of the law," he said, adding that he has reminded people, especially judicial officers, to be sensitive to problems related to women and children as they are the most vulnerable sections of society.

"Don't just think of the letter of the law, but for God's sake also think of the spirit of the law. I say take the spirit and the letter of the law, combine them together and you will have something worth looking forward to," Justice Kabir said.

The trial of five of the accused has got under way in a specially set up 'fast-track' court headed by additional sessions judge Yogesh Khanna. The five were brought to the court today for pre-trial proceedings. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The sixth accused is thought to be under 18 years of age, and will be tried separately in a juvenile court. The issue has caused some heartburn among protestors as he was reportedly the most vicious of the attackers, but is likely to get off with a relatively light sentence.

In the incident on 16 December, a 23-year-old medical student and her male friend boarded a bus to head home after watching a movie at a South Delhi mall. The six men already on the bus, including the driver, sexually harassed the young woman and then hit her friend with an iron rod when he tried to intervene. The same rod was used on her before the men allegedly took turns to rape her. An hour later, they flung the couple onto the road.
The woman died of her grievous injuries two weeks after the attack.

The monstrous contours of the attack and the multitude of lapses that allowed the bus to drive around South Delhi undetected while the lady and her friend were being battered drove thousands of students and activists to the streets, demanding a swift trial for those accused of her murder and an overhaul of the ineffectual justice system which allows trials to stretch for years.

The government miscalculated the intensity of public anger and frustration, with senior ministers failing to connect with the demonstrators. A weekend of protests in Delhi turned violent, with some in the massive crowd hurling stones at the police and setting a car on fire. The police retaliated, using water cannons, batons and tear gas on a massive crowd at India Gate, the heart of the capital.