Five men charged with gang rape and murder of woman in Delhi


Police filed have charges in a New Delhi court against five men accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old medical student on a moving bus in the capital last month.

They submitted a 1,000- page document listing more than 40 witnesses to the crime that horrified the entire country and triggered protest marches and a furious national debate over the rampant sexual harassment of women.

The five accused, aged between 19 and 35, were expected in court yesterday but were not present when the media were allowed in to listen to a part of the proceedings. The public prosecutor and police said they would demand the death penalty for all five even as the government awaits the recommendations of a specially constituted legal commission to frame stricter laws to protect women .

Lawyers at the court refused to defend the suspects, forcing the government to appoint advocates on their behalf.

Fast-track court

The trial of the five men, who were allegedly drunk when they took the private bus out for a joyride, will take place in a special fast-track court.

India’s chief justice, Altamas Kabir, has cautioned against letting anger overwhelm due process as public clamour grows for swift executions. “Let us not get carried away. A swift trial should not be at the cost of a fair trial,” he said.

A sixth suspect who is reportedly aged 17 cannot be charged with murder and will be tried separately in a juvenile court even though, according to the victim’s dying declaration, he was the most brutal of the six.

The maximum jail term he can be awarded if found guilty is three years’ imprisonment at a delinquent facility. Police will conduct a bone density test on him to verify his age to determine if he can be tried in an adult court.

“If the law needs to be changed to hang the juvenile, then let it, but he should not be treated with any leniency,” the girl’s father (53) said from his family home in Marawara Kalan, a remote village in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

The unnamed medical student, who died at the weekend in Singapore, was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron bar on a moving bus in the capital on December 16th as she was returning home with a male friend after seeing a film.

They were both hurled naked into the street from the moving bus. The five men tried to run the woman over, but she was saved by her friend, himself badly beaten and barely able to walk.

Under Indian law, the woman, like all rape victims, cannot be named and anyone who does so can be prosecuted and can face a two-year jail term. She has been variously christened “Braveheart”, “India’s daughter” and “Nirbhay” (Fearless) by media and protesters.

Sustained campaign

The attack caused outrage across India. Large protests have demanded tough new rape laws, better police protection and a sustained campaign to change society’s views about women.

According to official statistics, a rape takes place every 28 minutes in India but only 10 per cent of cases ever get reported.

Many rape cases never get to court because of intense social pressure against families reporting assaults and because women are often blamed for the attacks because of the way they dress and behave.

When women do report rapes, sexist and callous police often refuse to file charges and put pressure on the victims to reach a compromise with their attackers.

A recent poll found India to be the worst place for women in the G20 group of nations because of child marriage, abuse, rape and female foeticide.