— Indian police have charged five suspects with the rape and murder of a 23-year-old girl in New Delhi. They will be tried in a newly-opened fast track court. The brutal gang rape triggered nationwide protests and demands for quick justice and tougher laws for sexual assault.
More than two weeks after the crime, police filed charges Thursday against five of the six suspects arrested for the crime. The woman died of the severe injuries she sustained when she was savagely assaulted and beaten in a moving bus.
The Delhi police have said they will ask for the death penalty for the accused if they are convicted. They have been charged with gang rape, murder and criminal assault.
A sixth suspect is believed to be a minor and will be tried in a juvenile court.
New 'fast track' established
The case is to be heard in a special fast track court established on Wednesday by India’s chief justice to deal with crimes against women. Hearings in this court will be held in quick succession in order to conclude the case quickly - some expect by end of next month. That would be a record in a country where trials drag on for years due to a massive backlog.
The government has promised quick justice following an outpouring of unprecedented public anger over the attack. Days after the crime, thousands of young men and women held protests in central Delhi to demand the severest punishment for the guilty and tougher penalties for rape offenders.
Watch related video
Ranjana Kumari, head of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi, said the huge delay in deciding cases and low conviction rate are the main reasons why those charged with rape often go unpunished.
“We have 75,000-odd cases pending in different parts of the country at different levels, so unless [the] justice system gets streamlined, and we get fast track courts, this is going to continue to be happening and there will be more anger and frustration because law is not acting as a deterrent, neither people fear the law,” said Kumari.
The fast track court where the case is being heard is the first of five special courts that are being established in the Indian capital. These courts will hear cases of sexual assault and other crimes against women to bypass the clogged justice system in ordinary courts.
Protests spur new procedures
The Indian Bar Association has said it will not defend the six suspects because of the nature of their crime. But the government is expected to appoint lawyers to defend them.
The massive popular protests against the gang rape took the government by surprise and have prompted authorities to do more to tackle crimes against women and ensure their safety.
On Monday, a new 24-hour helpline for women in distress was opened in the Indian capital. New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said efforts are being made to fine tune the service.
Dikshit said there were some initial problems with the helpline, but these are being sorted out. She said those manning the line will be given special training.
Police say they also are recruiting more female officers to help women who say that when they report sexual assault offenses, police often are insensitive.
Police figures indicate that crimes against women are growing - partly because more crimes are now being reported. Still, many rapes are never reported because of the discrimination that rape victims often face.
Lawyers shout slogans as they hold placards and a banner during a protest demanding the judicial system act faster against rape outside a district court in New Delhi, India, January 3, 2013.
Indians stand in a line to enter the District Court complex where a new fast-track court was inaugurated Wednesday to deal specifically with crimes against women, in New Delhi, India, January 3, 2013.
An elderly Indian man lights a candle at a makeshift memorial of a gang-rape victim in New Delhi, India, Janueary 3, 2013.
Women carrying placards enter Raj Ghat to attend a prayer ceremony for a rape victim after a rally organized by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (unseen), New Delhi, India, January 2, 2013.
A student prays during a vigil for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Ahmedabad, India, December 31, 2012.
Students hold candles as they pray during a vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Ahmedabad, India, December 31, 2012.
Men lie on a street while on a hunger strike during a protest in New Delhi, India, December 31, 2012.
Students participate in a protest rally, in Hyderabad, India, December 31, 2012.
Indians burn effigies of the rapists during a candle-lit vigil to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India, December 30, 2012.
Indians participate in a candle-lit vigil to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi, India, December 30, 2012.