NEW DELHI — Indian lawmakers facing sexual-assault charges against women could be suspended from office if the country’s top court rules in favor of a petition submitted following a gang-rape and murder that shocked the country.
Six state lawmakers are facing rape prosecutions, and two national parliamentarians are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape, said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which tracks political candidates’ criminal records.
The petition will be heard Thursday and comes as police prepare to formally charge six suspects in the gang-rape and killing of a student in the capital two weeks ago.
The Dec. 16 rape triggered outrage across the country and sparked demands for stronger laws, tougher police action against those accused of sexual assault and a sustained campaign to change society’s views on women.
As part of that campaign, Chief Justice Altamas Kabir agreed to hear a petition from retired government administrator Promilla Shankar asking the Supreme Court to suspend all lawmakers from the national and state legislatures who are facing prosecution for crimes against women.
Ms. Shanker also asked the court to force the national government to fast-track thousands of rape cases that have languished in India’s notoriously sluggish court system for years.
In the past five years, political parties across India nominated 260 candidates awaiting trial on charges of crimes against women, Mr. Chhokar said. Parties ran six candidates for the national parliamentary elections facing such charges, he said.
Political analyst Zoya Hasan said: “We need to decriminalize politics, and surely a serious effort has to be made to stop people who have serious charges of sexual assault against them from contesting elections.”
On Wednesday morning, several thousand women held a silent march to Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi’s memorial in the capital in memory of the victim, holding placards demanding “Respect” and “Justice.”
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit joined the women for a prayer session for the victim. The Gandhi memorial is a common protest site.
On Tuesday, the government set up a task force to monitor women’s safety in New Delhi and review whether police were properly protecting women. The government had set up two earlier bodies to look into the handling of the rape case and to suggest changes in the nation’s rape laws.
The rape of the 23-year-old university student on a bus has horrified many in the country and brought unprecedented attention to the daily suffering of women here, who face everything from catcalls and groping to rapes.
Six men arrested in the case were to be formally charged Thursday with kidnapping, rape and murder, said Rajan Bhagat, a New Delhi police spokesman. Police have said they will push for the death penalty in the case.
Police were awaiting findings on a bone test conducted on one of the suspects to confirm whether he is a juvenile or an adult, which could affect the charges against him.
The Bar Association of lawyers last week decided against defending the six suspects because of the nature of the crime, although the court is expected to appoint lawyers to defend them.
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