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Defense attorney blames victim in India gang-rape, murder case

Manohar Lal Sharma, center, lawyer for defendants accused in a gang rape, speaks outside a district court in New Delhi on Thursday.
Manohar Lal Sharma, center, lawyer for defendants accused in a gang rape, speaks outside a district court in New Delhi on Thursday.Adnan Abidi / Reuters

The attorney representing three men charged with gang rape and murder in India told an interviewer that the woman who died and her male companion were to blame for the attack, which took place on a moving bus in New Delhi, according to a report published Thursday.

"Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady," Manohar Lal Sharma said, according to the Bloomberg report. "Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect."

The Dec. 16 attack left the 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her companion, who was also beaten, bleeding on a highway. The woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

Sharma, who is representing three of the five individuals charged in the attack, said Wednesday that his clients would plead not guilty to all charges in the case. Two other men have been charged in the attack, and a third was implicated but will be tried separately because he is a minor.

The lawyer's comments, which echoed those by some conservative religious and political figures, were likely to meet with more outrage from India’s urban middle class, which has spearheaded fierce protests against the government and police for their perceived failure to protect women from violence.

But they reflected a traditional chauvinism that is still held by many in the populous country.

"Guilt is not one-sided," Indian spiritual leader Asaram Bapu, told followers earlier in the week, adding that if the woman had pleaded with her six attackers in God's name, and told them she was of the "weaker sex," they would have relented, Reuters reported.

Mohan Bhagwat, a conservative pro-Hindu politician, weighed in with his view that rape occurs only in Indian cities, because women there adopt western lifestyles, but not in rural India.

But that view is contradicted by data, Reuters reported, citing the National Commission for Women, which has documented a pattern of gang rape and sexual humiliation of lower caste women in rural India.

Bhaskara Rao, who heads the New Delhi-based policy think tank said Bhagwat's comments reflected a traditional, rural society amid a country in transition.

"The people who are there in the police, judiciary, politics — they are old minds trying to deal with new problems," she said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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