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Jagdish Sharan Verma

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Jagdish Sharan Verma (Associated Press)
NEW DELHI (AP) — Jagdish Sharan Verma, the former Indian chief justice who helped lead the charge for tough new laws to protect women in the wake of a gang rape of a woman on a New Delhi bus, has died. He was 80.

Verma died late Monday of multi-organ failure after a brief illness, said Dr. Yatin Mehta, an official at the Medanta Medicity hospital where he was being treated in a New Delhi suburb.

A lifelong crusader for justice and a firm believer in the integrity of judges, Verma was known as the conscience-keeper of the Indian judiciary.

After he retired as the country's chief justice in 1998, he refused to take any job in the private sector to avoid the appearance of impropriety. But the government repeatedly turned to him for help. He was the head of India's national panel on human rights and the first head of India's national broadcasting standards authority.

But his landmark service came earlier this year when he headed a government panel to examine the Indian criminal justice system's treatment of violence against women. The panel was formed following the fatal gang rape in the capital in December. The case sparked protests and demands for changes in the way India treats its women.

Verma's commission received more than 80,000 suggestions on how to change Indian law and completed a 630-page report in just a month.

It recommended stricter penalties for crimes against women, including death in extreme cases of rape. It also approved increasing the maximum seven-year sentence for rape to 20 years and imposing stiff punishments for crimes such as stalking, cyber stalking and voyeurism.

Many of the panel's recommendations swiftly became law.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh memorialized Verma not just for the "many path-breaking judgments he delivered as a judge, but also for his deep sensitivity to the concerns of the common man and his fierce commitment to the public good."

In a statement, Singh said Verma had been generous in giving him advice, which he will miss.

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