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Minister calls for rape crackdown

NEW DELHI: India needs to crack down on crimes against women with "an iron hand" if it is to prevent rapes and other attacks, a top law enforcement official said yesterday.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was speaking at a conference of state officials from across India that was called to discuss how to protect women in the wake of a fatal gang rape in the capital last month.

Five men were charged with murder, kidnapping and rape in the attack on a 23-year-old student who died over the weekend in a Singapore hospital from massive internal injuries.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for today at a new fast-track court inaugurated this week to deal with rape cases in the capital.

Shinde said the nation needed to find more effective ways to enforce the law to protect women.

He said the Home Ministry plans to recruit 2,500 female police personnel in New Delhi to enhance the security of women. New recruits will be deployed to ensure that every police station in the city has a minimum of nine female police officers, comprising at least two sub-inspectors and seven constables.

Police will perform more night patrols, make more frequent checks on bus and other transport drivers, and prohibit buses with tinted windows or curtains.

Authorities were waiting for the outcome of a bone marrow test before deciding whether a sixth suspect in the attack, believed to be a minor, will be charged as a juvenile or an adult.

In the wake of the rape, several petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court to take an active role in the issue of women's safety.

The court yesterday dismissed a petition asking it to suspend legislators accused of crimes against women, saying it doesn't have jurisdiction.

However, the court did agree to look into the widespread creation of more fast-track courts for accused rapists across the country.

Another petition filed by a retired civil servant requested Supreme Court judges to consider eight steps, among them ensuring all rape claims are investigated by female police officers and denying bail to defendants accused of multiple sexual offences.

Meanwhile, the companion of the gang rape victim recounted in a television interview for the first time yesterday how the pair was attacked on the bus for two-and-a-half hours before being thrown on the side of the road, where passersby ignored them and police debated jurisdiction issues before helping them.

The woman and her male friend had just finished watching the movie Life of Pi at an upscale mall and were looking for a ride home.

An autorickshaw driver declined to take them so they boarded the private bus with the six assailants inside, the companion told the Indian TV network Zee TV.

He said he was beaten unconscious by her attackers before the pair were thrown off the vehicle.

They lay in the street for 45 minutes before a police van arrived and officers then spent a long time arguing about where to take them.

In another development, police in the northeastern state of Assam arrested a leader of the ruling Congress party on accusations he raped a woman in a village.

Footage on Indian television showed the extraordinary scene of local women surrounding Bikram Singh Brahma, ripping off his shirt and repeatedly slapping him across the face.

The Congress party last night suspended Bikram.



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