NEW DELHI: India’s cabinet has approved harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty, after a brutal gang-rape in New Delhi that sparked national outrage.
A government-appointed panel recommended the changes to ministers after the death of a 23-year-old woman who was savagely raped and attacked in a bus on December 16 and died nearly two weeks later.
The case ignited nationwide demonstrations by protesters demanding better safety for women.
The changes, which must be approved by President Pranab Mukherjee to become law, include doubling the minimum sentence for gang-rape and imposing the death penalty when the victim is killed or left in a vegetative state.
“We have taken swift action and hope these steps will make women feel safer in the country,” Law Minister Ashwani Kumar told reporters late on Friday.
“This is a progressive piece of legislation and is consistent with the felt sensitivities of the nation in the aftermath of the outrageous gang-rape,” he added.
On Saturday, the gang-rape victim’s brother praised the cabinet’s decision to make sentences tougher for attackers, calling it a “positive initiative”.
The changes to the rape laws were expected to be approved by Mukherjee as early as this weekend but must be ratified by parliament or they will lapse.
Under the changes, the minimum sentence for gang-rape, rape of a minor, rape by policemen or a person in authority will be doubled to 20 years from 10 and can be extended to life without parole.
Under the current law, a rapist faces a term of seven to 10 years.
The cabinet has also created a new set of offences such as voyeurism and stalking that will be included in the new law.
Five men are being tried in a special fast-track court in New Delhi on charges of murder, kidnapping and rape in connection with the death of the student, who died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital where she had been sent for further treatment.
A sixth suspect faces trial in a juvenile court.