Indian politicians facing sexual assault charges may be suspended from office in the wake of the New Dehli bus rape scandal.
The country’s highest court is to rule on an application to ban regional and national MPs on sex charges.
Meanwhile thousands of women gathered at the memorial to independence leader Mohandas Gandhi to demand stronger protection for their safety.
The march came as police prepared to formally charge six suspects in the gang-rape and killing of the student in the capital two weeks ago.
The attack triggered outrage and 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 this week from retired government administrator Promilla Shanker asking the Supreme Court to suspend all politicians who are facing prosecution for crimes against women.
She 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.
Six state MPs are facing rape prosecutions and two national ones are facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape.
In the past five years, political parties across India nominated 260 candidates awaiting trial on charges of crimes against women. Parties ran six candidates for the national parliamentary elections facing such charges.
“We need to decriminalise 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,” said Zoya Hasan, a political analyst.
Several thousand women joined a silent march to 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 government has set up a task force to monitor women’s safety in New Delhi and to review whether police were properly protecting women. It 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, who face everything from catcalls and groping to rapes.
Six men arrested in the case will be formally charged on Thursday with kidnapping, rape and murder. Police are to push for the death penalty in the case.
The family of the victim – who died on Saturday at a hospital in Singapore – is struggling to come to grips with the tragedy.
“She was a very, very, very cheerful little girl and she was peace loving and she was never embroiled in any controversies like this. I don’t know why this happened to her,” her uncle, Suresh Singh, said.
The family called for stronger rape laws to prevent such attacks from happening again and demanded swift – and harsh – justice for woman’s assailants.
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