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New Delhi - Five men accused of gang-raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed the nation are to be formally charged in court on Thursday.
Police will lay out evidence against them of rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died at the weekend from the horrific injuries inflicted on her during an ordeal that has galvanised disgust over rising sex crimes in India.
The men, mostly residents of New Delhi slums, will face the death penalty if convicted, India's Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said, amid public clamour for their execution.
“It is compulsory for all the accused to present themselves before the magistrate,” explained Rana Dasgupta, a legal officer at the Saket district court complex where armed police maintained tight security on Thursday morning.
The magistrate, working from a small room with 30 chairs, “will admit the charge sheet presented by the police and then give a copy of the charge sheet to all the accused,” Dasgupta added.
This document - reportedly 1 000 pages long - will detail the evidence collected, the most powerful of which is expected to be a statement from the victim after the attack and an account from her boyfriend who was with her at the time.
He was beaten during his attempts to save the medical student after the couple were lured onto the private bus by the reportedly drunk gang after watching a film at night.
A sixth suspect in the case who is believed to be a minor aged 17 will not be charged in the Saket court on Thursday, a Delhi police spokesman told AFP. Detectives are awaiting the results of a bone test to verify his age.
The trial of the suspects has been fast-tracked and Altamas Kabir, the chief justice of India, has cautioned against letting public anger overwhelm the due process of the law.
Lawyers at the district court in New Delhi have decided they will not defend the suspects, meaning that the government will have to appoint advocates for them.
“Let us not get carried away. A swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial,” chief justice Kabir was quoted as saying in the local media on Thursday.
Protesters have massed in Indian cities daily since the December 16 assault demanding the government do more to combat crime against women, with tougher penalties for offenders and even chemical castration being considered.
The latest incident, though far from rare in a country where gang rapes are commonplace, has led to deep soul-searching in the media and the country's political class about the treatment of Indian women.
Analysis has focused on the deeply patriarchal Indian society, in which misogyny and sexism run deep and women are often second-class citizens, as well as the difficulty of rape victims in dealing with social stigma and the police.
On December 28, it emerged that a 17-year-old girl had committed suicide after police allegedly tried to persuade her to drop a complaint of gang-rape and instead either accept a cash settlement or even marry one of her attackers.
The government has set up three separate commissions to look into the incident and suggest changes in the law, with one minister suggesting new anti-rape legislation should be named after the victim.
This sparked a controversy as her name has not been disclosed in line with legal protections given to the victims of sex crime and their families, who face social stigma.
The brother of the victim, speaking from the family's home village in northern Uttar Pradesh state, said they would not object if the government wanted to name a new law after her.
“My father feels if they want to name the new law after her, they can go ahead, it will be like a tribute in her memory,” he told the Indian Express newspaper.
The brother also pleaded that the family should be left alone to grieve their loss.
“The public anger is justified but my sister's story should not be made into a spectacle,” he said.
A recent poll found India to be the worst in the G20 group of nations for women because of child marriage, abuse and female foeticide, which has led to a badly skewed sex ratio in the country of 1.2 billion people. - AFP