Gang-rape victim persevered for 11 years to see justice done - and still lives in fear

LUCKNOW (INDIA) • She was still a teenager when a pack of young men pulled her into a car, tortured her and gang-raped her.

The young woman, now a poised student in her mid-20s, has endured more than three dozen court appearances, six separate trials and endless legal wrangling. The last of the rapists, the son of a powerful family, was convicted this past spring - 11 years after the crime.

During the woman's ordeal, she was forced to leave school, was put in a home for runaway girls and even now lives with police protection out of fear that allies of the rapists could exact revenge.

Her supporters say her extraordinary perseverance has helped her overcome forbidding legal odds. "I decided I had a single goal," said the young woman, the daughter of an illiterate junk dealer. "Justice."

As violence against women and the number of rapes in India continue to rise - a woman is raped every 30 minutes here on average, one study says - activists, lawyers and officials say that female crime victims still face many barriers in the country's courts.

These include poorly trained doctors, callous police, shoddy forensic practices and the delays that permeate India's judicial system - delays so disheartening that some victims lose their nerve or settle with attackers' families.

In her long wait for justice, the victim was not alone. The average lower court trial in India takes more than six years, according to Daksh, a civil-society organisation in Bangalore that analyses the Indian legal system, and can stretch even longer with High Court and Supreme Court appeals.

In recent years, India has responded by toughening its rape law and creating fast-track courts to speed prosecution of rape cases and other crimes against women. But these new courts have their own delays - and, in some states, strikingly low conviction rates.

In April, when the last of the gang rapists in the case was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the victim put on a pink sari and fed sweets to her joyous family and activists who supported her during years of demanding action.

But the journey is not over. "I have thought about this continuously," the young woman said recently. "Why did they do this to me? Why did they ruin my life - just because they had money and I'm poor?"

A local advocate who helped her said the victim rarely got discouraged during her long battle. "She is remarkable," said Ms Madhu Garg, an activist with the All India Democratic Women's Association in Lucknow. "The case dragged on for so long, but the strength of her character and her determination helped us win."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Gang-rape victim persevered for 11 years to see justice done - and still lives in fear'. Print Edition | Subscribe