Indian women carry their children as they march during a protest to mourn the death of a gang rape victim in New Delhi on Wednesday.(Photo: Dar Yasin, AP)
NEW DELHI -- Indian police were preparing Thursday to file rape
and murder charges against a group of men accused of sexually assaulting
a 23-year-old university student for hours on a moving bus in New
The Dec. 16 attack on the woman, who later died of her
injuries, has caused outrage across India, sparking protests and demands
for tough new rape laws, better police protection for women and a
sustained campaign to change society's views about women.
arrested six people in the case and planned to file charges Thursday in a
new fast-track court in south Delhi that was inaugurated the day before
to deal specifically with crimes against women, police spokesman Rajan
Bhagat said. Police planned to ask for the death penalty in the case.
men - the bus driver, his brother and four of their friends - are
residents of a south Delhi slum near the site of the attack. One of the
attackers said he was a juvenile and authorities were conducting medical
tests on him to determine whether to try him with the others or send
him to juvenile court.
"Strict, strict, strict punishment should
be given to them," said Ashima Sharma, an 18-year-old 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."
Indian Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said the
accused should be tried swiftly, but cautioned that they needed to be
given a fair trial and not subjected to mob justice.
"Let us not
lose sight of the fact that a person is presumed innocent until proven
guilty," he told reporters Wednesday, while inaugurating the new
fast-track court. "Let us balance things. 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."
government is to set up four other such courts in the capital to hold
timely trials in sexual assault cases, which often get bogged down for
years in India's notoriously sluggish court system.
The new courts
will work to provide justice as swiftly as possible "so that the
message is sent to all and sundry that these matters are going to be
dealt with seriously," Kabir said.
Many cases never even get to
court in a country where there is intense social pressure against
families reporting sexual assaults and where women are often blamed for
the attacks they suffer. When women do report rapes, police often refuse
to file charges and pressure the victims to reach a compromise with
In a sign that attitudes toward such behavior
might be changing, and that even powerful men are being held accountable
for their actions, police in the northeastern state of Assam arrested a
leader of the ruling Congress party Thursday on accusations he raped a
woman in a village in the early hours of the morning.
Indian television showed the extraordinary scene of local women
surrounding the man, ripping off his shirt and repeatedly slapping him
across the face.
Police said the man, Bikram Singh Brahma, was
visiting the village of Santipur on the Bhutan border when he entered a
woman's house and raped her at about 2 a.m. Amid the screams, villagers
ran to the home and captured the man, said G.P. Singh, a senior police
officer in the area.
"We are taking this issue very seriously," Singh said.
activists hope that the rape and killing of the university student last
month will mark a turning point in India's behavior toward women. The
victim, whose name has not been revealed, was attacked after boarding a
bus with a male companion after watching an evening showing of the movie
"Life of Pi" at an upscale mall. The vehicle was a charter bus that
illegally picked up the two passengers, authorities said.
were attacked for hours as the bus drove through the city, even passing
through police checkpoints during the assault. They were eventually
dumped naked on the side of the road. The woman, who was assaulted with
an iron bar, suffered severe internal injuries that eventually caused
her to die Saturday at a hospital in Singapore.
Media reports say
police have gathered 30 witnesses, and the charges have been detailed in
a document running more than 1,000 pages. Police also detained the
owner of the bus used in the crime on accusations that he used false
documents to obtain permits to run the private bus service.
Bar Association said its lawyers would not defend the six suspects
because of the nature of the crime, but the court is expected to appoint
attorneys to defend them.
Since the attack, women have held
near-daily protests and candle-light vigils in New Delhi, demanding
action be taken to stop the daily harassment they face, from groping to
even more violent attacks.
Also Thursday, the Supreme Court was
expected to hear a petition demanding Indian lawmakers facing sexual
assault charges be suspended from office.
Six state lawmakers are
facing rape prosecutions and two national parliamentarians are facing
charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape, said Jagdeep S.
Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which
tracks political candidates' criminal records.
The petition from
retired government administrator Promilla Shanker also asks the court to
force the national government to fast-track thousands of rape cases
across the country.