Indian panel recommends tougher sex crime sentences



New Delhi: A government panel reviewing India's sex crime laws after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi proposed tougher jail terms on Wednesday but stopped short of calling for the death sentence.

Gopal Subramanium, a member of the Justice J.S. Verma Commission, said the maximum sentence for gang-rape should be raised to a full life term, meaning convicts must spend the the rest of their lives behind bars. "In gang-rape cases, life imprisonment should mean the rest of the person's life," he told a press conference.

Subramanium also read out recommendations suggesting maximum sentences of seven years for stripping a woman, three years for stalking, four years for groping and seven years for voyeurism, or spying on women. "We did not recommend the death penalty because we received overwhelming suggestions against it," said Verma, a former chief justice named by the government on December 24 to head the commission.

India's 153-year-old penal code currently stipulates rapists should serve a minimum of seven years in prison and a maximum life term -- normally commuted to 10-14 years in practice. Gang-rape convicts face a minimum 10 years and a life term. The panel was set up amid violent protests and demands for greater protection for women after the fatal assault on a 23-year-old student by six rapists on a moving bus in New Delhi on December 16.

She died of horrific internal injuries caused by her attackers 13 days later, leading to widespread public demands for India to introduce the death penalty for rapists. Five of her alleged attackers went on trial Monday for gang-rape, murder and other offences and could face the death penalty if convicted of murder.

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