Women protest outside the Indian High Commission in London.
Five men accused of raping and murdering an Indian student
were read the charges in a New Delhi courtroom after the
judge cleared out lawyers for bickering over whether the
men deserved a defence. REUTERS/Paul Hackett
Five men accused of raping and murdering an Indian
student have been read the charges in a near-empty courtroom in
New Delhi after the judge cleared out lawyers for bickering
over whether the men deserved a defence.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died two weeks after
being gang-raped and beaten on a moving bus in New Delhi,
then thrown bleeding onto the street. Protests followed,
along with a fierce public debate over police failure to stem
rampant violence against women.
With popular anger simmering against the five men and a
teenager accused in the case, most lawyers in the district
where the trial will be held refuse to represent them.
Before the men arrived for a pre-trial hearing on Monday,
heckling broke out in a chamber packed with jostling lawyers,
journalists and members of the public after two of the
lawyers, Manohar Lal Sharma and V. K. Anand, offered to
defend the men.
"We are living in a modern society," declared Lal Sharma,
defending his decision. "We all are educated. Every accused,
including those in brutal offences like this, has the legal
right ... to defend themselves."
One woman lawyer prodded V. K. Anand in the chest, saying:
"I'll see how you can represent the accused."
Unable to restore order, presiding magistrate Namrita
Aggarwal ordered everyone to leave except the prosecution,
and set police to guard the entrance.
She said the trial would now be held behind closed doors
because of the sensitivity of the case.
Reuters video images showed the men stepping out of a blue
police van that brought them from Tihar jail and walking,
their faces covered, through a metal detector into the South
Delhi court building.
The court was across the street from the cinema where the
victim watched a film before she was attacked on her way
Aggarwal gave the men copies of the charges, which include
murder, rape and abduction, a prosecutor in the case told
Police have conducted extensive interrogations and say they
have recorded confessions, even though the men have no
If the men, most of them from a slum neighbourhood, cannot
arrange a defence, the court will offer them legal aid before
the trial begins.
Two of them, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, have offered to
give evidence against the others - Mukesh Kumar, Ram Singh
and Akshay Thakura - possibly in return for a lighter
Mohan, describing what he called a heinous crime, said: "The
five accused persons deserve not less than the death
The case has sharpened long-standing anger against the
government and police for a perceived failure to protect
A male friend who was assaulted with the woman on Dec. 16
said on Friday that passers-by left her unclothed and
bleeding in the street for almost an hour and that, when
police arrived, they spent a long time arguing about where to
The woman lived for two weeks after her attack, dying in a
Singapore hospital where she had been taken for treatment.
Aggarwal said the next hearing would be on Jan. 10. The case
is due to move later to another, fast-track court set up
since the woman was attacked to help reduce a backlog of sex
crime cases in Delhi.
Legal experts say the lack of representation for the five men
may give grounds for appeal if they are found guilty.
Convictions in similar cases have often been overturned years
Some legal experts have also warned that previous attempts to
fast-track justice in India in some cases led to imperfect
convictions that were later challenged.
The sixth member of the group alleged to have lured the
student and a male friend into the private bus is under 18
and will be tried in a separate juvenile court.
The government is aiming to lower the age at which teenagers
can be tried as adults, acknowledging public anger that the
boy will face a maximum three-year sentence.
The victim was identified by a British newspaper at the
weekend but Reuters has opted not to name her.
Indian law generally prohibits the identification of victims
of sex crimes. The law is intended to protect victims'
privacy and keep them out of the glare of media in a country
where the social stigma associated with rape can be
The dead woman's father repeated on Monday that he wanted her
identified and said he would be happy to release a photograph
"We don't want to hide her identity. There is no reason for
that. The only condition is it should not be misused," he
He said he was confident the trial would be quick and
reiterated a call that the perpetrators be hanged.