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She was still a teenager when a pack of young men pulled her into a car, tortured her and gang-raped her. The young woman, now a poised student, endured more than three dozen court appearances, six separate trials and endless legal wrangling.
The last of the rapists, the son of a powerful family, was convicted this past spring – 11 years after the crime. During her ordeal she was forced to leave school, was put in a home for runaway girls and even now lives with police protection out of fear that allies of the rapists could exact revenge. Her supporters say her extraordinary perseverance helped her overcome forbidding legal odds.
"I decided I had a single goal," said the young woman, the daughter of an illiterate junk dealer: "Justice."
As violence against women and the number of rapes in India continue to rise – a woman is raped on average every 30 minutes here, one study says – activists, lawyers and officials say that female crime victims still face many barriers in the country's courts. These include poorly trained doctors, callous police, shoddy forensic practices and the delays that permeate India's judicial system – delays so disheartening that some victims lose their nerve or settle with attackers' families.
In recent years, India has responded by toughening its rape law and creating fast-track courts to speed prosecution of rape cases and other crimes against women. But these new courts have their own delays – and in some states, strikingly low conviction rates.
"I have thought about this continuously," the young woman said recently. "Why did they do this to me? Why did they ruin my life – just because they had money and I'm poor?"