Five of six men charged in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi have been produced in court in the Indian capital. The country's chief justice also wants more fast track courts to ensure quick justice for crimes against women.
There was tight security in the New Delhi court where the five accused men were produced before a magistrate Monday. Proceedings were closed to the media and the public following chaotic scenes in court. The magistrate said that the trial will remain closed due to the sensitivity of the case.
Monday's chaos was triggered by the massive crowd in the small courtroom and also a ruckus between a lawyer who offered to defend the men and other lawyers who said the accused do not deserve to be represented.
The five suspects, between the ages of 19 and 35, have been charged with murder, rape, and kidnapping of the young woman who died of the severe injuries she sustained when she was brutally gang-raped in the Indian capital last month. A sixth accused, who is a teenager, has been produced in a juvenile court.
The lawyer, Manohal Lal Sharma, who offered to defend the men said they deserve representation.
Sharma said all the five accused are innocent until proven guilty according to law. He said if they were rich, instead of slumdwellers, they would have had top lawyers defending them.
The next hearing will be on Thursday. Later, the trial will move to a fast track court which opened last week. The government hopes to conclude the proceedings within weeks and meet widespread demands for quick justice.
Prosecutors have told the court that there is forensic evidence to link the defendants to the crime scene. They will also rely on a statement given by the rape victim to police as she lay in a hospital battling for life.
Two of the five accused have offered to testify against their fellow defendants. They have already confessed to participating in the attack.
The gang rape in Delhi has triggered massive outrage and put the spotlight on rape and sexual assault in India as well as calls for a change in attitudes which often blame rape victims for the crime.
On Monday, there was furor over comments by a Hindu spiritual leader, Asaram Bapu, who suggested that the Delhi rape victim was also responsible for the crime as she boarded a bus in which there were no women. He said she should have called those who assaulted her brothers and pleaded for mercy.
A senior leader of the opposition Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Ravi Shankar Prasad, called it a regrettable statement.
"He is the biggest guru, the country looks up towards him. For him to make this statement in relation to a crime which has shocked the conscience of the country is not only unfortunate, but deeply regrettable," said Prasad.
Amid a growing cry for speedier justice for crimes against women, India's Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, has asked High Courts to establish more fast track courts in to expedite similar cases. He said the delay in concluding trials could be a reason for the spurt in crimes against women.
The government is also considering reforming the way police and the legal system treat sexual assault after reports of police insensitivity and judicial inaction in sexual assault cases.