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Jagdish Verma, 80; helped overhaul India’s rape laws

Justice Verma’s commission urged stricter penalties for crimes against women.

Associated Press

Justice Verma’s commission urged stricter penalties for crimes against women.

NEW DELHI — Jagdish Sharan Verma, the former Indian chief justice who helped lead the charge for tough new laws to protect women in the wake of a gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 80.

Justice Verma died of multiple organ failure, said Dr. Yatin Mehta, an official at the Medanta Medicity hospital where the retired jurist was being treated in a New Delhi suburb.

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A lifelong crusader for justice and a firm believer in the integrity of judges, Justice Verma was known as the conscience of the Indian judiciary.

After he retired as the country’s chief justice in 1998, he declined to take any job in the private sector, to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The government repeatedly turned to him for help. He was the head of India’s national panel on human rights and the first head of India’s national broadcasting standards authority.

But his landmark service came this year when he headed a government panel to examine the Indian criminal justice system’s treatment of violence against women.

The panel was formed following the fatal gang rape in the capital in December. The case sparked protests and demands for changes in the way India treats its women.

Justice Verma’s commission completed a 630-page report in just a month. It recommended stricter penalties for crimes against women, including death in extreme cases of rape. It also approved increasing the maximum seven-year sentence for rape to 20 years and imposing harsh punishments for crimes such as stalking, cyberstalking, and voyeurism.

Many of the panel’s recommendations swiftly became law.

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