Thursday, January 25, 2007

An Indian man accused of raping a girl has married his alleged victim in a religious ceremony in a temple within the compound of a law court

Faisal Mohammad Ali:

Kamalnath Patel, a 22-year-old farmer, offered to marry the girl during the trial in Madhya Pradesh state.

He is accused of kidnapping and raping her two years ago, when she was 16.

Prosecutors said the marriage may mean the court takes a more lenient view if Mr Patel is convicted. Campaigners called the marriage "shameful".

The issue of rape still attracts a lot of stigma in India - in most cases members of the public blame the victim for the crime committed against her.

A court in the central city of Jabalpur has been hearing the case for the last couple of months. The next hearing is on Saturday.

Special public prosecutor Umesh Vaidya said the "court may take cognisance of the fact that the accused has married the alleged victim".

Mr Vaidya said: "Family members from both sides had told the court during the last hearing that they wanted the boy and the girl to get married."

He said the court would be informed of the wedding at the next hearing.

An eyewitness said the marriage was solemnised in the presence of the girl's family members, although Mr Patel's father refused to participate in the ceremony.

The couple were to appear before the registrar of marriages on Wednesday to have their marriage registered.

Women rights' activist, Kiran Walia, called the marriage "shameful".

"It is more distressing since the court was aware of the impending wedding plan," Ms Walia said.

Last year, a Delhi court asked a nurse to consider a marriage proposal from a man who had been convicted of raping and assaulting her.

Women's groups, including the National Commission for Women, criticised the court for even entertaining such a proposal.

The nurse rejected the offer and the judge gave her attacker a life sentence.

Rape cases have been rising steadily in India although a large number of them still go unreported.

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