Rape, murder charges filed in Indian bus attack
Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 7:25AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:45PM EST
Five men in India were charged Thursday with rape and murder, as well as other crimes, after the victim of a vicious bus attack died over the weekend of internal injuries.
The 23-year-old woman was attacked in New Delhi on the night of Dec. 16 when she boarded a charter bus with a male friend. The two endured an hours-long attack, during which the woman was assaulted with an iron bar.
The incident brought worldwide condemnation and sparked protests as far as Toronto, where a silent march was held Thursday outside of the Indian consulate.
In response, the government established a fast-track court Wednesday to address crimes against women. Charges were brought against the men in the court, including rape, tampering with evidence, kidnapping and murder. A hearing was scheduled for Saturday.
The accused are Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Pavan Gupta, Akshay Singh, and Vinay Sharma. Ram Singh was reportedly driving the bus on the night of the incident.
The Indian Bar Association has refused to defend the accused due to the nature of the crime, and the court will appoint lawyers for the men.
Inaugurating the special court, Indian Chief Justice Altamas Kabir called for a swift but fair trial.
"Let us not lose sight of the fact that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty," he told reporters. "Let us not get carried away. Provide justice in a fair but swift manner so that faith of people is once again restored that the judiciary is there behind the common man."
If convicted, the men could face the death penalty.
A sixth suspect, reported to be 17-years-old, could be tried in juvenile court and face three years in a reform facility if convicted.
The case could mark a watershed moment in women’s rights in India, where, although many women are subjected to sexual harassment and assault, perpetrators are often not tried due to social taboos and gender inequality.
About 50 female lawyers gathered outside the special court calling for changes in the criminal justice system.
"Punish the police, sensitize judiciary, eradicate rape," read one protester's sign.
"Strict, strict, strict punishment should be given to them," said Ashima Sharma, a student attending a protest Thursday. "A very strict punishment ... that all men of India should be aware that they are not going to treat the women like the way they treated her."
In downtown Toronto Thursday, about 50 demonstrators gathered at the Indian consulate to deliver a letter signed by 300 people. The letter implored Indian President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee to ensure greater accountability from government and police in rape cases.
The demonstrators also held a silent march brandishing placards that read “RIP Braveheart,” “We are ashamed... and sorry... and angry,” and “Do not stop your daughter to go out. Teach your son to behave.”
Protest organizer Parveen Gill told CTV News Channel, “We felt so pained, so hurt watching what happened in India and … we said, ‘We need to do something about this.’”
Demonstrators also aimed to “create awareness among people here and show our solidarity with the youth in India,” Gill added.
“We just hope to bring some attention to this issue, and we wanted to bring some focus to the Indian government that issues of rape and sexual assault and incest should no longer be ignored. Crimes against women should no longer be ignored by the political establishment and people enforcing law and order,” co-organizer Joti Kingra said.
Four more special courts are planned in New Delhi.
With files from The Associated Press