The Age
Jason Burke
New Delhi

CAMPAIGNERS in India have given a guarded welcome to a 630-page report recommending wide-ranging legal and other reforms in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi last month.

The report, presented by a commission set up in the wake of the attack and given to the government by Jagdish Sharan Verma, a former chief justice, amounts to a harsh indictment of policing, the courts, successive governments and social attitudes that have contributed to the wave of sexual violence against women.

Key recommendations include police and judicial reforms, an end to intrusive testing of rape victims, heavier sentences for some crimes as well as new offences to cover stalking and marital rape.

''Failure of good governance is the obvious root cause for the current unsafe environment, eroding the rule of law and not the want of knee-jerk legislation,'' Mr Verma said.

''It is a landmark,'' said Meenakshi Lekhi, a lawyer, activist and opposition politician. But Ms Lekhi and many others pointed out that most of the recommendations had already been made several times before.

Anil Bairwal, of the Association for Democratic Reforms campaign group, said: ''There have been so many reports before. Little of this is new. Most is what a government should already be doing. The key thing is to do something with the recommendations.''

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research and a prominent women's rights activist, said she doubted the will to implement any reforms. ''The key ministries and the police sent low-level clerks to the commission's hearings. What signal does that send? The government may act on the easiest recommendations but nothing more,'' she said.

■Five suspects, their faces covered with woollen caps, arrived in court on Thursday for the start of their trial for the rape and murder of the young physiotherapy student on a bus.

Police were on alert outside the sprawling court complex as the men arrived. Inside, about 30 policemen blocked access to the courtroom.

The suspects were whisked in by a phalanx of armed policemen for the start of the trial, which will be held in a closed courtroom after the judge denied a defence motion to make the proceedings public.

A sixth suspect is expected to be tried in a juvenile court.

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