Five on trial over India bus rape
The trial of five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus began in a closed courtroom today.
Prosecution lawyers made their opening arguments in the special fast-track court set up just weeks ago to handle sex assault cases.
The brutal attack last month set off protests across India and opened a national debate about the epidemic of violence against women. A government committee has called for a complete overhaul of the way the criminal justice system deals with rape, sexual assaults and crimes against women in general.
The five men on trial - who face a maximum sentence of death by hanging if convicted - covered their faces with woollen caps as they walked into the courtroom surrounded by armed police. Two hours later, after proceedings were over, they were whisked away by the police. A sixth suspect in the case has claimed he is a juvenile and is expected to be tried in a juvenile court.
Details of the day’s proceedings were not available. The courtroom was closed to the public and the media - a routine move in Indian rape cases - even though defence lawyers had argued that since the victim is dead, the proceedings should be opened. There was also a gag order on the lawyers to not reveal what happened inside the court.
Judge Yogesh Khanna turned down requests by journalists today that they be briefed on the day’s proceedings and said the gag order would remain.
Since tomorrow is a public holiday in India, the next hearing in the case was set for Monday, when the defence will present its opening arguments.
Dozens of police were on alert outside the sprawling court complex in south New Delhi. Inside the court, about 30 policemen blocked access to the room where the judge heard the prosecution’s case. Outside the courtroom scores of journalists and curious onlookers crowded the hallway.
Prosecutor Dayan Krishnan warned defence lawyers that if they spoke to journalists he would slap contempt of court notices on them, said VK Anand, a defence lawyer.
Police say the victim and a male friend were attacked after boarding a bus as they tried to return home after an evening showing of the film Life of Pi. The six men, the only occupants of the private bus, allegedly beat the man with a metal bar and raped the woman with it, inflicting massive internal injuries to her. The victims were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The trial began a day after a government panel recommended India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change the antiquated penal code to protect women. The panel appointed to examine the criminal justice system’s handling of violence against women, received a staggering 80,000 suggestions from women’s groups and thousands of ordinary citizens.
Among the panel’s suggestions were a ban on a traumatic internal examination of rape victims and an end to political interference in sex crime cases. It has also suggested the appointment of more judges to help speed up the system. Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the government would take the recommendations to the Cabinet and Parliament.