Rape accused's lawyer claims victim was to blame for bus attack


New Delhi

A lawyer who broke ranks with his colleagues and volunteered to represent two of the men accused of the gang rape that killed an Indian student said today that the 23-year-old victim was “wholly responsible” for the attack.

Manohar Lal Sharma, a 57-year-old Supreme Court advocate who is representing suspects Mukesh Singh, 26,  and Akshay Singh, 24, added that the woman was not one with “respect”.

“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.”

Mr Sharma has become a controversial figure in India, not least because he chose to take a case that 2,500 advocates from the Sakhet Bar Association had refused on a point of principle. He said he made his decision after seeing members of the association outside the courthouse in Delhi protesting that the five suspects did not deserve representation. “If this attitude was held by all bar associations, then no accused would be represented,” he said. Members of the Sakhet bar shouted down Mr Sharma as he arrived in the courtroom with the defendants today, causing proceedings to be temporarily adjourned.

Mr Sharma, who has been a Supreme Court advocate since 1980 and has 35 years’ experience as an attorney, is not a member of the Sakhet bar.

Two other lawyers, V K Anand and A P Singh, have also agreed to defend some of the five men accused of the attack.

Mr Sharma said tonight that he believed justice is being rushed out of popular pressure, and that there is a real danger that his clients – whom he maintains are innocent – could be wrongly convicted as a result.

“The police completed their investigation within 10 days, you can’t complete a proper investigation in that time,” he said. “These boys were all from poor areas, the police often go to these areas and pick up these men when they need a culprit. This is a regular practice.”

Mr Sharma has since tried clarify his remarks, saying: “I only told them that women are respected in India, they are mothers, sisters, friends but tell me which country respects a prostitute.” Asked if that meant that he regarded the victim as a prostitute, Sharma replied: “No, not at all, but I have to protect my clients and prove that they did not commit this heinous crime.”

More details emerged today about the victim, who was attacked by a group of men on 16 December as she travelled home on a bus after visiting the cinema with a male companion. The woman was in Delhi for a prestigious internship as part of a degree in physiotherapy, and worked night shifts at a call centre to help fund her studies.

Her family had sold or mortgaged their ancestral land in eastern Uttar Pradesh to allow her to pursue her dream. The young woman apparently wanted to build a hospital in her ancestral village, which had no access to healthcare.

Three of the five defendants, brothers Ram Singh and Mukesh Singh and a third, Askshay Singh, pleaded not guilty to the charges of rape and murder. Two others, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have refused legal counsel and asked to become prosecution witnesses, which could allow them to escape harsher sentencing. The deceased victim’s family opposed this, saying that none of the accused should be shown any leniency.

A sixth accused is a minor and is expected to be tried in a separate court.

Mr Sharma is seeking to have incriminating statements made by his clients thrown out of court. On Thursday he said that his clients made statements to the police under duress, alleging both torture and sexual abuse by the police while they were in custody.

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