India gang rape case trial begins in New Delhi
By Sayed Jawad - Thu Jan 24 2013, 6:09 pm
The trial of five men accused of the rape and murder of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi last month was set to begin Thursday in a special fast-track court set up after the attack ignited outrage and questions over the treatment of women in the country’s justice system.
The brutal attack last month set off protests across India and opened a national debate about the epidemic of violence against women. A government committee established in the wake of the attack has called for a complete overhaul of the way the criminal justice system deals with rape, sexual assaults and crimes against women in general.
Police were on alert outside the sprawling court complex in south New Delhi as the suspects arrived. Inside the court, about 30 policemen blocked access to the room where the trial was to be held, while scores of journalists and curious onlookers crowded the hallway.
The court is expected to hear opening arguments by the prosecution and defence lawyers. The trial will be conducted in a closed court room after Judge Yogesh Khanna denied a defence motion to make the proceedings public.
Since Friday is a public holiday in India, the next hearing in the case was set for Monday, when the defense will present its opening arguments.
The trial began a day after a government panel recommended India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change the antiquated penal code to protect women.
In the meantime a magistrate separately rejected a petition by Subramanian Swamy, a prominent politician, that no leniency be shown toward the accused who claims to be a juvenile because of the brutal nature of the crime, said Jagdish Shetty, an aide to Swamy.
On Wednesday, the plea was moved in the high court seeking a direction to prosecute the juvenile along with other co-accused in the case, saying the waiver from prosecution to such minors was “unreasonable”.
The Delhi high court had disposed of his plea, saying, “There was no cause of action to entertain this PIL at this stage.” The bench had, however, said the petitioner could “take proper recourse” by moving a sessions court if JJB did not allow his plea on the issue.