Indian court jails Uber driver for life for rape

AFP , Tuesday 3 Nov 2015

An Indian court on Tuesday sentenced an Uber driver to life in prison for raping a young woman passenger in New Delhi, a case that inflamed fears over sexual violence in the capital.

The Delhi court last month convicted Shiv Kumar Yadav of abducting and raping the 25-year-old passenger as she returned home from dinner with friends in December.

Yadav, dressed in a white checked shirt, wiped tears from his cheeks as the judge read out the sentencing, the maximum possible jail term for rape.

"He will serve rigorous imprisonment, which shall mean imprisonment til natural death," Judge Kaveri Baweja told the court in New Delhi.

Yadav, 32, was convicted last month of four charges -- rape, abduction, intimidation and causing harm -- and the prosecution had been expected to argue for the maximum punishment of life in jail.

Prosecutor Atul Shrivastava said in the courtroom the sentencing should send "a message" to society "where a person cannot even think of committing such an offence".

"She is not the only victim, rather the whole society is the victim," he said, alleging Yadav had a "criminal history" dating back to 2001.

California-based Uber was accused of failing to conduct adequate background checks after it emerged that Yadav had been accused of assaulting other women, although he had no previous convictions.

"This man has changed," defence lawyer Dharmender Kumar Mishra said of his client, adding he was the sole breadwinner for his poor family.

"On the day of his conviction, he cried... he had gone to the extent of wanting to commit suicide," Mishra said, adding that his client would appeal the sentence at a higher court.

Yadav's wife broke down in the courtroom, howling inconsolably, as the pair's crying daughters tried to console her.

Uber was officially banned from Delhi in the aftermath of the attack, but the ban has not been strictly enforced and the company's cars continue to operate in the capital.

The former Uber driver was tried by one of the fast-track courts introduced in 2013 following the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi, a crime that sparked nationwide protests about dangers to women.

The rape occurred days before the second anniversary of that now notorious attack, which earned Delhi the title of India's "rape capital", and brought the issue of violence against women back into the spotlight.

Yadav's sentencing was delayed from October 23 because of a shortage of police in the Indian capital, which was preparing to host a summit of African leaders.

Uber set up its India operation in September 2013 and now works in more than a dozen cities.

Last month India's federal government published new guidelines for web-based ride-hailing firms -- including installing emergency alarms -- a move seen as a boost for Uber's battle for legal status.

India recorded 36,735 rape cases in 2014, with 2,096 of them in Delhi alone. Experts say those figures are likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg.

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