Indian rape and murder trial begins as judge bars media after chaotic scenes
Five men accused of the rape and murder of a 23-year-old Indian student in New Delhi last month appeared in a city court yesterday to hear charges against them amid chaotic scenes that forced the hearing to retreat behind closed doors.
Following a scrum between reporters and a television crew, magistrate Namrita Aggarwal barred the media from the trial.
“Keeping in view the sensitivity of this case, the proceedings including the inquiry and trial will take place in camera,” Ms Aggarwal said before clearing the court of those unconnected to the case.
She also said there was “apprehension” over the safety of the accused, who come from a local slum and are aged 19-35. Passions are high and last week one person was arrested for planting a crude explosive device outside the home of one of the alleged rapists.
The five accused entered the courtroom from a rear entrance. Their faces were covered and they were under heavy police escort. They will be offered legal aid before the trial begins later this week in one of the six new “fast-track” courts, set up to reduce the backlog of sex crime cases in Delhi.
Two of the accused offered to turn approver [one who confesses to a crime and accuses another] in exchange for lighter sentences, but police and the public prosecutor are expected to reject the offer, claiming they have ample evidence to secure a conviction.
The crime has shocked and traumatised India, provoking anger, grief and a determination by activists to lobby for stronger laws to protect women and punish sexual offenders.
The accused could face the death penalty if convicted of raping the unnamed 23-year-old physiotherapy student after she boarded their bus on December 16th along with a male friend. She was raped and brutalised and the two were thrown naked from the moving bus.
The woman’s male companion recounted in a television interview at the weekend how they were both attacked for more than 2½ hours on the bus and later ignored by passersby as they lay battered on the road.
Even the police, he claimed, debated jurisdiction issues for more than 45 minutes before taking them to hospital.
Another rape and murder
Meanwhile, four policemen have been suspended and a fifth transferred in Delhi’s suburb of Noida for mishandling a similar case involving the rape and murder of a 21-year-old woman. Her body was found in Noida on Saturday and her father alleged she had been gang-raped and killed.
He claimed police had declined to register a missing persons report when his daughter had not returned home on Friday night, mockingly telling him she had eloped with her boyfriend. Soon after, police recovered his daughter’s violated body. Two people have since been detained for questioning.