Rape verdict in seven months

Calcutta, March 26: Three youths were today sentenced for life by a Haldia fast-track court in a 2011 rape case, the judgment coming within seven months of the charges being framed in August last year.

The judgment by additional district and sessions judge Somnath Chakrabarti, who a fortnight ago sent five human traffickers to jail for 10 years, has been described in legal circles as a warning for perpetrators of crimes against women because of the speed of the trial and the degree of punishment.

According to the prosecution in the gang-rape case, four youths in their 20s barged into a flat in the Haldia township around 2am on December 16, 2011. They gagged the guard and entered the flat with the intention to rob, public prosecutor Somnath Bhuiya said.

"The 50-year-old woman and her teenaged son were at home. Her husband was out of town for work. The four men entered the flat and assaulted the mother and son when they tried to resist. Then they dragged the woman to the bathroom and forced her to strip. The youths said her son would be killed if she didn't. They took turns to rape her before leaving with Rs 20,000, a camera, a watch and gold ornaments," the lawyer said.

The woman's husband lodged a complaint with the police the next day and one of the rapists, Bikash Pramanik, was arrested that night.

The police took another five months to track down Sonu Doloi and Ranjit Manna. The fourth accused ' Sheikh Monirul ' is on the run.

The fast-track court today sentenced the three under Section 376 (2) (g) of the IPC for gang rape and Section 394 of the IPC for voluntarily causing hurt.

The judgment within seven months today reflected the sense of urgency in district courts. The Chief Justice of India had recently appealed to the judiciary to dispose of woman-related cases within four months.

Bhuiya said the gang-rape of a paramedical student in Delhi on December 16 and her subsequent death had prompted the judicial system to fast-track cases of crime against women.

The case had sparked protests across the country.

"The rape cases I've dealt with in the past have fizzled out because of lack of evidence. Moreover, most cases get stuck when they transit from lower courts to trial courts. The fast-track courts have helped speed up the process," he added.

Human rights advocate Tapas Kumar Bhanja said many of gang-rape cases had dragged on for 10 to 20 years in courts.

"Criminal justice starts from the police station and conviction depends a lot on that. Unfortunately, the conviction rate is a mere 10 to 15 per cent in India. The rest get bail or are acquitted," he said.

Bhanja added: "I'm glad that the lower judiciary and district courts are paying attention to deliver quick judgments."

Sunitha Krishnan, co-founder of an anti-trafficking organisation, Prajwala, said: "Speedy justice means the redress system is effective."

"There have been a number of convictions in the country after the Delhi gang rape. For fast-track courts to function effectively, the judiciary needs a powerful and efficient enforcement mechanism, proper investigations and fair chargesheets," said Krishnan.

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