The Wall Street Journal
Biman Mukharji
New Delhi

Indian authorities may have promised harsher punishments for rapists. But they could start by looking at politicians themselves.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a nonprofit organization, authorities have charged at least six members of India’s state legislatures with rape and 36 other local politicians for crimes against women including sexual abuse and assault. Two members of India’s national Parliament also have been charged for sexual abuse and assault, the association says.

Jagdeep Chhokar, a retired professor and a founder of the body, said the number of politicians in India’s 552-member national lower house of Parliament who are facing criminal charges, including rape, has increased by a third since 2009 to 162 lawmakers.

“The trend indicates that political parties believe that winning the elections is the only thing that matters. How the election is won seems to be immaterial,” Mr Chhokar said.

B.G Verghese, an independent political analyst and newspaper columnist, said the public and political outrage at the gang rape of a 23-year-old student who died Saturday rings hollow as long as parties continue to allow alleged rapists to represent them.

The Election Commission of India, the country’s election watchdog, does not have the power to reject the candidatures of politicians facing criminal charges. In many cases the trials of those charged with crimes take years to begin, and when they do, can often drag on for decades.

Mr. Chhokar said, the election commission should be empowered to block those facing criminal charges from taking part in polls until their names are cleared. “All of them must stand up to stricter scrutiny,” he said.

Mr Chhokar said India’s police often is wary of taking action against an accused if that person belongs to a political party. “You never know whether that person will be elected and come to power as a legislator.”

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