India rape sentences need to be tougher, panel says

Commission sorts through thousands of suggestions from jurists, women's groups and other forums to form its recommendation.

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NEW DELHI // A government commission tasked with looking at India's sex crime laws after the gang rape of a student on a New Delhi bus is expected to recommend tougher sentences as it reports its findings today.

A three-member commission led by former chief justice of India Jagdish Sharan Verma will hand over its recommendations to the government, which faced violent protests following the fatal gang rape on December 16.

"The report will be submitted to the home ministry today and the committee members will give details of their recommendations to the media," the ministry spokesman, Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, said.

Judge Verma received thousands of suggestions after he set January 5 as a deadline for comments from jurists, women's groups and other forums to revamp existing legislation to deal with sex offenders.

The panel was formed in late December amid demands for greater protection for women after the brutal assault of a 23-year-old student by six rapists after she boarded a bus in New Delhi with her boyfriend.

India's 153-year-old penal code stipulates rapists should serve a minimum of seven years in prison and a maximum of life, while gang-rape convicts face a minimum term of 10 years and life imprisonment.

Media reports say the ruling Congress party has suggested the death penalty for rapists in exceptional cases, while "chemical castration", using drugs to eliminate sex drive, has also been raised.

The government, which has announced new "fast-track" courts to speed up India's notoriously slow justice system and efforts to boost the number of women police officers, has declined to comment on the panel's work.

Though sexual harassment is commonplace in India, the student's gang-rape has touched a nerve, leading to an outpouring of criticism about the treatment of women in Indian society.

The Congress party chief, Sonia Gandhi, on Sunday condemned the "shameful" social attitudes that she said led to crimes like gang-rape. The case had "shaken the entire country", she said.