Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Legislative push begins after Indian gang rape

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NEW DELHI -- Indian lawmakers facing sexual-assault charges could be suspended from office if the country's top court rules in favour of a petition submitted after a gang-rape and murder that shocked the country.

Six state lawmakers are facing rape prosecutions and two national parliamentarians are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape, said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which tracks political candidate's criminal records.

The petition will be heard Thursday, the same day police plan to formally charge six suspects in the attack on a 23-year-old university student in New Delhi two weeks ago.

The rape triggered outrage and sparked demands for stronger laws, tougher police action against sexual-assault suspects and a sustained campaign to change society's views on women.

As part of that campaign, Chief Justice Altamas Kabir agreed to hear a petition from retired government administrator Promilla Shanker asking the Supreme Court to suspend all national and state lawmakers who are facing prosecution for crimes against women.

She also asked the court to force the national government to fast-track thousands of rape cases languishing in India's notoriously sluggish court system.

In the past five years, political parties across India nominated 260 candidates awaiting trial on charges of crimes against women, Chhokar said. Parties ran six candidates for the national parliamentary elections facing such charges, he said.

"We need to decriminalize politics and surely a serious effort has to be made to stop people who have serious charges of sexual assault against them from contesting elections," said Zoya Hasan, a political analyst.

On Wednesday morning, several thousand women held a silent march to Gandhi's memorial in the capital in memory of the victim, holding placards demanding "Respect" and "Justice." Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit joined the women for a prayer session for the victim. The Gandhi memorial is a common protest site.

On Tuesday, the government set up a task force to monitor women's safety in New Delhi and to review whether police were properly protecting women. Two task forces already are examining the handling of the rape case and possible changes in rape laws.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 A13

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