Fast-track court hearings begin in India gang rape case

Indian protestors light candles around a mannequin representing the rape victim during a rally in New Delhi on December 31.

Story highlights

  • Five adult suspects accused of raping and killing a woman appear in court
  • Media outlets cannot report details of what happened at the hearing
  • The Supreme Court will hear a request to move the case outside New Delhi
  • The 23-year-old victim died following the alleged attack on a bus in December

An Indian fast-track court on Monday began hearing the case of five men charged in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, the latest step in a case that has appalled and transfixed India.

The five adult suspects in the December 16 incident appeared at the hearing. But details about what was said in court cannot be reported under a judge's ruling imposing restrictions on coverage of the case.

The suspects are alleged to have attacked the woman and her male companion on a bus, robbed them and dumped them by the side of the road.

The woman, badly injured in the attack, died two weeks later despite being flown to Singapore for treatment. Her companion survived.

The five men are charged with murder, rape and kidnapping and could face the death penalty if convicted.

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A sixth suspect, who is believed to be too young to be tried as an adult, is facing proceedings in a juvenile court.

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The case is being heard in a "fast-track" court, which India introduced to try to expedite cases in a justice system bogged down by red tape. It means sessions of the trial, once it begins, should take place nearly every working day until a verdict is reached.

The hearing Monday was a procedural step at which the charge sheet detailing prosecutors' accusations against the suspects was submitted. The trial will begin once the prosecution's arguments are made in court.

The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday, according to defense lawyers.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court is due to hear a plea from the lawyer of one of the accused to shift the trial outside of New Delhi.

The magistrates' court that initially heard the case imposed restrictions on what the news media can report about events in court.

That practice is common in rape cases in India, and the magistrate said it was also necessary to protect the suspects' safety amid intense media coverage and widespread anger.

The case has prompted rallies in cites across India and an uproar over the treatment of women.

Authorities have not released the name of the woman, but Indian protesters have been calling her Damini, which means "lightning" in Hindi.

"Damini" is also a 1993 Bollywood film whose lead female character fights for a housemaid, a victim of sexual assault.

The government has pledged to strengthen laws against sexual assaults after the outrage over the case.

The events have also focused the attention of the Indian news media on attacks against women around the huge country. Newspapers and television stations have been reporting other shocking rape allegations on an almost daily basis.

The number of reported rapes in India -- a country where a cultural stigma keeps many victims from reporting the crime -- has increased from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, according to official figures.

Most women in India have stories of sexual harassment and abuse on public transportation or on the streets, the Indian Council on Global Relations says.

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