New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) Eight-and-a-half months after a young paramedical student was gang-raped in a moving bus here, the first punishment was handed out when a juvenile court ruled that an 18-year-old, who was claimed by the police to be the "most brutal" of all the six accused, be confined to a reform home for three years.
The youth, who was then a minor but turned 18 in June, was not named. The first judgement in the case, however, left the family members of the victim angry, who said they wanted harsher punishment for him.
The maximum punishment that can be awarded under the Juvenile Justice Act in India is three years.
The Juvenile Justice Board, presided over by Principal Magistrate Geetanjali Goel, pronounced the verdict and convicted the 18-year-old for gang rape, murder and other charges. The board, however, acquitted him of some of the charges for which he was booked. Details were not disclosed as media was not allowed inside the court.
The minor was also acquitted from attempt to murder charges of victims' male friend and the sole eye witness of the case.
The prosecution has called the minor, as the "most brutal of the six". He was the one who had called the victim and her male friend to the bus on Dec 16 night by giving them wrong information. He along with five other men had gangraped the girl in the moving bus and had then thrown both of them out - without clothes - on the streets in the cold December night.
The police had said that apart from sexually assaulting the 23-year-old physiotherapist trainee, the minor had also ripped out her internal organs with a rod. The girl died later.
The brutal gang rape sparked massive protests in New Delhi and other cities, with people demanding death for the accused persons.
The board refused to reveal all the charges for which the minor accused had been convicted and acquitted.
After the order was announced, the victims entire family - father, mother and two brothers - said they were happy.
"We are not satisfied with the verdict," the victim's mother said with tears in her eyes.
"If minors do such things and get away so easily, how will the law work? It cannot be done like this. We will move the higher court against the judgment," she said.
The father of victim also expressed his dissatisfaction over the verdict.
"Our daughter has died and now after listening to this verdict we also have virtually died. This will only encourage the crime," the father said.
"I was hoping that the juvenile accused will be given life imprisonment, but he was given only three years (in special home," said the victim's father.
"The court by giving a lighter punishment of three years has actually encouraged the other juveniles to commit crime. The law must be changed.
The board also said that a period of around eight months that the minor has spent in juvenile observation home will be deducted from his punishment of three years in the special or reform home.
The minor's lawyer said his conduct at special home will be observed and the sentence would be reviewed.
"The board will observe his conduct during his stay in reform home and can review its sentence order and there is a possibility that he could come out early," Rajesh Tiwari, advocate of juvenile, told reporters.
As the gang rape had hit international headlines and raised concerns about women's safety in the country, the area around the board was packed with media persons, onlookers and activists. More than 150 media persons from national and international newspapers and television channels had gathered from early morning to cover the case.
The board was to pronounce its verdict at 10 a.m. in the morning but it came only at 3.30 p.m.
After the order was pronounced, some protestors raised slogans outside the board and sought death penalty for the minor.
Shouting "hang the rapist", the protesters expressed their displeasure on the "lighter punishment" they thought the minor has got.
But child rights activists said the minor should get a chance to re-integrate with society.
Shireen Vakil Miller, director of Save the Children, said: "The most important step is to ensure that there is a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the juvenile that includes counseling, and a provision for vocational training. This would help the juvenile to re-integrate into the society once he has completed his sentence."
A native of Uttar Pradesh, the minor had moved to Delhi at the age of 11 and was doing odd jobs. He was arrested after the incident from Anand Vihar in east Delhi as he was trying to flee to his village in Uttar Pradesh.
Six people, including the minor, were arrested in the case. While accused Ram Singh, Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur faced trial in fast track court in Saket in south Delhi, the juvenile's case was heard by the board.
The case against Ram Singh was dropped after he was found dead, hanging in his cell in Tihar Jail.