Murder charges for New Delhi rape suspects

'Let us punish them,' shouts angry crowd outside Delhi court, as five men are charged for the rape and murder of student whose death shocked India.

A lawyer shouts slogans against police and the government outside the New Delhi District Court complex where a new fast-track court was inaugurated to deal specifically with crimes against women.
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NEW DELHI // Five men were charged yesterday for the rape and murder of a student in New Delhi, whose death shocked India and led to countrywide protests demanding swift justice for women who are victims of sexual violence.

The group accused of raping the 23-year-old on a bus did not appear in the Saket courthouse in the capital, amid security concerns for their safety and renewed calls by protesters inside and outside court, demanding the accused be hanged.

Outside, a man screamed in Hindi: "We don't want a trial. Give them to the public and we will punish them."

The sixth accused, a minor, has not been identified, and will be charged separately after a bone-density test is done to ascertain whether he can be tried as an adult.

The powerful evidence presented by the police in court included statements from the unidentified student.

The victim made her statements in New Delhi at the Safdarjung Hospital in-between three surgeries where doctors desperately tried to prevent infection from spreading through her body after they had to remove most of her intestines, which were allegedly torn out by the accused during the sexual assault on December 16.

A police source also said that she had fought back during the rape and bitten three of the attackers.

The bite marks are reportedly included in the dossier of evidence.

Thousands of Indians have taken to the streets in marches and vigils to protest against the treatment of women in the country. Only one in four cases of rape reported last year resulted in a conviction, according to government statistics.

Women's rights activists hope that the rape and murder of the physiotherapy student will lead to reforms in India's dysfunctional criminal-justice system.

Police yesterday presented a 1,000-page document at the magistrate's court, which lays out the evidence collected, and includes charges for murder, gang-rape, kidnapping, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence, and criminal conspiracy.

As the evidence was presented behind closed doors, protesters banged on the courtroom doors demanding the details be made public. But the police sought permission yesterday to keep the details of the document confidential to protect the identity of the victim.

Police sources have also said that the accused admitted to torturing, raping and violating the student with a metal bar "to teach her a lesson".

The trial will formally begin tomorrow in a fast-track court, but lawyers of the Saket Bar Association said they would not take up the case of the accused.

"We are not going to represent them on humanitarian grounds," Arun Rathee, vice president of the Saket Bar Association said. "We are appealing to other Bar associations as well to not take up the case."

Mr Rathee said the accused can access a lawyer through legal aid centres in the city.

The verdict could be made in a month.

"We do not want to prolong the case. The nature of violence the brutality with which it was committed had made this the rarest of rare cases. I cannot say I have seen anything like this before," said Mr Rathee.

The men have also been accused of destroying evidence by burning the clothes of the victims and washing the bus.

Other details that have emerged include an attempt by the bus driver to run over the student after being thrown off the bus. The victim's friend is said to have pulled her out of the way as the bus attempted to speed over them.

Some of the key witnesses will include the doctors that treated the victim in New Delhi and Singapore, where she was flown to for treatment, before succumbing to her injuries on December 29, thirteen days after she was first brought to the emergency ward of the Safdarjung Hospital.

On Wednesday, Altamas Kabir, the chief justice of India inaugurated a fast-track court in the same courthouse. On the same day, a chemist was held for allegedly trying to blow up the homes of one of the accused in New Delhi.

"Why is there such a low conviction rate in India? Please judges, wake up!" read one banner held by a protester outside the court yesterday.

A group of men also gathered around to protest in silence, holding up a sign: "When will you stop giving rapists tickets?" pointing to a recent report by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-profit group that advocates greater political transparency, that published information following the sexual assault in Delhi about politicians facing criminal charges, including charges of violence against women.

Authorities have charged at least six legislators of India's state legislatures with rape and 36 other local politicians for crimes against women, including sexual abuse and assault. Two members of India's parliament have also been charged with sexual abuse, the report said.

India's Supreme Court will hear a petition starting on Tuesday that will seek to bar politicians with pending criminal charges from contesting elections at all levels, from village councils to national elections.

* With additional reporting by Reuters