NEW DELHI — A court on Saturday sentenced a teenager to three years in a juvenile detention center for participating in a gang rape in December 2012 that led to the death of a 23-year-old woman. The punishment visibly disappointed the victim’s family.
The teenager had been working as an assistant on a private bus when the woman and a male friend boarded it, heading home from a movie theater. But the bus began to circle the ring road around Delhi and, according to police, the youth and five men repeatedly raped the woman, including with an iron rod, before throwing her onto the highway.
She was treated at hospitals in India and Singapore but died of her injuries as thousands of protesters marched against sexual violence here in the Indian capital.
Three years is the longest sentence the youth could have received under Indian law, because he was a few months shy of his 18th birthday when the crime occurred and could not be tried as an adult.
The woman’s parents looked crestfallen as they emerged from the courtroom, and a small group of protesters shouted, “We want justice” and “Hang the juvenile.”
Weeping, the victim’s mother, Asha Devi, said, “We have been wronged.”
Her husband, Badrinath Singh, said that the court might as well have set the man free.
“We were hopeful that the board would give a sentence that would give us some peace,” Singh said, visibly struggling to maintain his composure.
The case prompted India’s government to toughen laws on sexual violence and set off a debate over whether to lower the age at which a person can be tried as an adult to 16 from 18.
The Supreme Court of India is hearing a petition for a review of the juvenile law, which is oriented toward reform rather than punishment, but last week it gave a nod to the Juvenile Justice Board to deliver a verdict regardless of the petition.
The board did not find the teenager guilty of all 16 charges against him, said Rajesh Tiwari, his defense lawyer. Tiwari was under court order not to disclose details of the counts his client had been convicted of, as the trials of four men accused in the case are pending. A fifth man, the driver of the bus, was found hanged in his jail cell in New Delhi in March.
Tiwari said the verdict Saturday was subject to review.
After the ruling was announced at the juvenile court, a small group of protesters wearing black bands on their foreheads began shouting slogans. Pihu Karmakar, 20, a recent graduate of the University of Delhi, said she thought the law should not distinguish between juveniles and adults in rape cases.
“She was a medical student,” Karmakar said of the victim. “She would have saved so many lives.”
Swami Ramavtar Baba, a white-bearded man in a saffron robe, said he was a farmer who had traveled here from a neighboring state.
“The punishment should be more,” he said. “The law should change.”