After suggesting, to much outrage, that his defense would center on blaming the New Delhi gang-rape victim for her own rape, Manohar Lal Sharma, the lawyer defending three of the suspects in the trial upending India, now claims that his clients were tortured into giving a confession. "All these people have been tortured badly. It's under pressure that they have made statements in court," Sharma said on Thursday. "Evidence has been manipulated to calm the anger among people."
It wouldn't be the first time Indian police have been connected to torture. In 2004, The Washington Post's Rama Lakshmi reported, "According to the latest available government data, there were 1,307 reported deaths in police and judicial custody in India in 2002." An expert with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation told Lakshmi: "India has the highest number of cases of police torture and custodial deaths among the world's democracies and the weakest law against torture." And in December 2011, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported that between 2001 and 2011 14,000 people died in police custody. "Most Indian policemen lack the skills to find convincing evidence after a crime is committed. The conviction rate in incredibly low in India and most of the convictions are based on forced confessions," Meenakshi Ganguly, head of Human Rights Watch India, told them.
Even if Sharma is making a familiar accusation of his own, that won't make all the critics of his defense strategy any happier. The alleged attack on 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, and her ensuing death from her injuries, sparked thousands of protests in India, and they haven't stopped. Sharma's comments earlier this week didn't help: "Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady ... Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect," the lawyer said. According to police and doctors, Pandey was raped and violated with an iron rod while on a bus with the six accused men. Her doctors in Singapore said her injuries were so severe that she required three abdominal surgeries. And police say they have forensic evidence tying the men to the crime.
Beyond Sharma's three clients, which include the driver of the bus, who reportedly tried to run over Pandey after the initial attack, a fourth suspect will also now plead not guilty. It remained unclear how a fifth suspect will plead, and courts are determining whether the sixth will be tried as an adult.