India gang rape trial begins in fast-track Delhi court

This story was inadvertently republished and now gives an incorrect datestamp of 5 February 2013. In fact the story refers to events on 21 January 2013.

Watch the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder report from outside the court in Delhi

The trial of five men over the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman has begun at a specially convened fast-track court in India's capital, Delhi.

If convicted, the men could face the death penalty. A sixth suspect, who is thought to be 17, is expected to be tried by a juvenile court.

The case has shocked India and sparked a debate about the treatment of women.

On Sunday, the victim's mother condemned public figures who implied her daughter had brought it on herself.

In an interview with the BBC, she said those who criticised Indian women for adopting Western dress and lifestyles were "sexist and irresponsible" and were in effect condoning rape.

The physiotherapy student, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and a male friend were attacked on a bus in south Delhi on 16 December.

Police said the assailants beat both of them, and then raped the woman. She suffered massive internal injuries and died nearly two weeks later.

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The woman's home in a narrow alley doesn't have a proper roof, so the place was damp and water-logged after recent rain”

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'Forensic evidence'

The start of the trial at the Saket court complex in Delhi was delayed for more than an hour as defence lawyers argued that it should be open to the media. The judge rejected their request and said it should be held behind closed doors.

After receiving the charge sheet, the judge adjourned the trial until 24 January, when opening arguments will be heard.

The defendants have been named as Ram Singh and his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur. The sixth suspect claims to be a juvenile and his case is being handled separately.

Lawyers for two of the suspects have said they will plead not guilty. It is unclear how the other three accused will plead.

Prosecutors say they have extensive forensic evidence linking all six men to the crime. It is supported by the suspects' mobile-phone records and the testimony of the dying woman and her friend, they add.

India's fast-track courts

  • Some 1,200 fast-track courts were operating in India as of March 2012
  • In Delhi, six fast-track courts were ordered for the trial of cases related to crimes against women, especially rape. Some other states such as Punjab and Maharashtra are also setting up fast-track courts for this purpose
  • In 2000, central government started a scheme for more than 1,700 fast-track courts to try to clear the backlog of cases clogging up the Indian judicial system, partly related to a shortage of judges
  • Funding is an issue because the central government said it could no longer fund them after March 2011, leaving future funding decisions to individual states

However, defence lawyers told the Reuters news agency that they were preparing to argue that the forensic evidence had been fabricated.

They also said the trial was unsafe because police had rushed the investigation into the crime as a result of the public outrage.

Two of the four defence lawyers had said their clients were beaten in custody and forced to make confessions which were suspiciously similar. Officials have declined to comment, citing legal restrictions.

The defence is also expected to argue that the men were denied legal aid for several weeks. The lawyer for Ram Singh, VK Anand, said he would ask to move the trial out of the capital because of the media attention.

"We are sure we will not get justice in Delhi," he added.

'Quick justice'

The brutal assault on the 23-year-old student has led to nationwide protests against the treatment of women in India.

Campaigners have called for tougher rape laws and reforms to the police have been accused of too often failing to file charges against attackers.

The government has promised to fast-track future rape cases. Legal proceedings in India sometimes involve years of delays.

As well as the one sitting at Saket, five other fast-track courts are being set up in Delhi to allow crimes against women to be dealt with swiftly. There are believed to be about 95,000 rape cases pending nationwide, according to Ranjana Kumari, a women's activist and director of the Centre for Social Research.

"'We need a system in which women can get justice quickly. Otherwise, in the normal course of things, it can take 10 or 12 or 14 years for cases to be taken up by the court. That is tantamount to denying justice to the victim," she told the Associated Press.

The government has also said that it will bring in stronger sexual assault laws and has established several committees to recommend changes.

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