New Delhi - The Delhi authorities on Thursday charged five men with murdering the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died after being gang-raped on a bus in the city earlier in January.
The men are expected to appear in a newly constituted “fast track” court where they could face the death penalty. Bone tests are being carried out on a sixth alleged attacker, who will be tried separately in a juvenile court if the results support the claim that he is 17.
The five were named as bus driver Ram Singh, 33; his brother and assistant Mukesh Singh, 26; fruit vendor Pavan Gupta, 19; bus washer Akshay Singh, 24; and fitness trainer Vinay Sharma, 20. The next hearing in the case is set to take place on Saturday.
The government will appoint defence lawyers on the suspects' behalf after all 2 500 advocates attached to Delhi's district court refused to represent them.
“We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend them. It would be immoral to defend the case,” said Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and member of the Saket District Bar Council. Police said that they did not bring the men to court for the preliminary hearing on Monday - usually a legal obligation in India - amid fears over their safety. Public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan has requested that the trial take place behind closed doors.
After police had formally presented their 1 000-page charge sheet to the court, Mohan said that DNA evidence tied all six men to the crime. But despite pressure to name the victim, Mohan asked that her identity remain protected.
Rape victims are automatically granted anonymity under Indian law, but her relatives consented on Wednesday to her identity being revealed. India's junior education minister, Shashi Tharoor, had suggested that a new and far more stringent rape law under consideration should be named after her.
Although rapes are numbingly common in India, the national outpouring of grief and rage over the death of the student - who was raped and beaten for an hour before being thrown out of the still-moving bus - has shaken the authorities out of their habitually torpid response to such crimes.
Angry protests have been held in several cities including Delhi, where demonstrators clashed with police and demanded that the rapists be hanged. On Thursday the victim's father backed the call, telling India's Economic Times newspaper from his home in Uttar Pradesh: “The juvenile should be punished first… he was the one who lured my daughter into the bus and tortured her most mercilessly.
“Imagine his brutality when he is 17… what a demon he would become once he is older? The government should reduce the juvenile age to 12 or 15 years. All the six accused should never be allowed to step out of the jail… they must be hanged. They are a threat to every woman on the street.”
Responding to the outpouring of rage over the case, officials in the capital have promised to offer more protection to the city's women, with night patrols by police, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and a ban on buses like the one in which the student was attacked which have curtains or tinted windows.
The reaction to such measures is likely to be cynical, however: an undercover investigation by the Delhi news weekly Tehelka last year revealed that some senior police officers are openly scornful about rape allegations.
A sub-inspector at one police station was recorded as saying: “If girls don't stay within their boundaries, if they don't wear appropriate clothes, then naturally there is attraction [which] makes men aggressive, prompting men to just do it.”
In an indication of the scale of national anger over the Delhi case, nearly 1 800km away on the Bhutan border a group of women were filmed stripping and slapping Bikram Singh Brahma, a Congress party politician whom they claimed had raped a married woman in the village. Assam's chief minister Tarun Gogoi said: “I can assure you that no-one, whether from the Congress Party or anywhere else, would be spared.” He was later detained by police but denies the accusations against him. - The Independent