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Rape panel calls for major changes in India

NEW DELHI — The judicial panel set up following protests after the gang rape of a young woman on a bus in the Indian capital submitted its report Wednesday, castigating politicians, police, and the army for failing to protect women and children, and calling for far-reaching changes in the way the country is governed.

The three-member panel was established to assuage national outrage over the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student last month, but did not bow to public pressure to propose the death penalty for rapists or lowering the age at which young offenders can be tried. The lawyer for one of the accused rapists in the New Delhi case says his client was 17.

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Instead, in a 200-page report, the panel slammed decades of apathy and criminal behavior in the way the country was governed and said the nationwide protests were ‘‘a call to India to change the way in which women are treated.’’ It also laid bare a deep disconnect between India’s young people and its government.

‘‘Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment eroding the rule of law, and not the want of knee-jerk legislation,’’ the panel’s head, said Justice J.S. Verma.

A call for the public to send suggestions to the committee generated nearly 80,000 responses, Verma said, showing the extent of national anguish over the dangers faced by women in India daily. Yet hardly any of the country’s police chiefs bothered to respond to requests for their own views.

The panel was establishedto assuage outrage over the brutal rape of a student.

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Verma praised the young people who protested peacefully to demand change, saying they had taught the older generation a lesson, but he criticized the authorities for their complacent response to the brutal Dec. 16 New Delhi attack, singling out Home Secretary R.K. Singh. The young woman died two weeks later.

‘‘I was shocked when I saw that, soon after that incident, the police commissioner of Delhi was given a pat on the back by no less a person than the home secretary,’’ Verma said.

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Not only do the police frequently fail to report or investigate rapes, but officers are sometimes involved in child trafficking themselves, Verma said. He also called for the government to shake off its ‘‘apathy’’ toward the growing problem of missing children, abducted in large and growing numbers for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

The committee recommended that marital rape be criminalized and that India’s outdated rape laws be overhauled so that sexual assault would be subject to much tougher penalties. The committee also recommended that the law be changed to make the sexual assault of homosexuals a crime.

Verma blamed political corruption for the breakdown in law and order in the country and said politicians facing criminal charges should resign from parliament, a suggestion that could affect scores of lawmakers. ‘‘When people committing crimes are framing laws . . . well I don’t need to complete that sentence,’’ he said.

Verma said the report had been prepared in just 29 days so that it could be ready for next month’s session of Parliament.

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