"Too often the pressure is on the girls to stay safe. But parents need to take responsibility for their sons," said protester Satvinder Kaur, a 40-year-old mother. "The culture will only change when mothers stop their sons from going out late at night, when they make it clear they will not stand behind them if they do something like this."
Kaur said the sentence sent "a very positive message to the ladies in India that the government is standing behind them."
Faced with the outcry, the government in March created fast-track courts for rape cases, doubled prison terms for rape and criminalized voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women.
The dozens of protesters outside the courthouse on Friday, while lauding the sentence, called for swift justice in tens of thousands of rape cases that remain backlogged in Indian courts.
An estimated 100 and 150 people are sentenced to death in India in most years, but the vast majority of those cases are eventually commuted to life in prison.
The defendants, like the rape victim, lived on the bottom rungs of India's booming economy. Nearly all came from families that had moved to New Delhi in recent years from desperately poor rural villages, hoping to find well-paying jobs in the capital. Few had such luck.
One, Mukesh Singh, occasionally drove the bus where the crime occurred and cleaned it. Sharma, the gym assistant, was the only one of the attackers to graduate from high school. Akshay Thakur, 28, occasionally worked as a driver's helper on the bus. Pawan Gupta, 19, worked in a streetside fruit stall.
With them on the bus were two other men. Police say Ram Singh, 33, hanged himself in prison, though his family insists he was killed. Another man — an 18-year-old who was a juvenile at the time of the attack and cannot be identified under Indian law — was convicted in August and will serve the maximum sentence he faced, three years in a reform home.
The young woman, though, was trying to escape the economic mire she had been born into. Her father supported five people — his wife, the woman and two younger sons — on a little over $200 a month working as an airport baggage handler.
But while women remain second-class citizens in most Indian families, expected to stay home and care for their parents and then their husbands, her parents and brothers had supported her as she worked for an education, even breaking with tradition by helping her leave her home for a time to study physiotherapy.
At the time of the attack, she was awaiting exam results for a physiotherapy degree. The results came after her death. She had passed.
AP Writer Tim Sullivan contributed to this report.
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