By Muneeza Naqvi
An Indian magistrate has ordered the trial of five men accused in the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus to be shifted to a special fast-track court in New Delhi.
The brutal rape of the 23-year-old student last month set off protests in New Delhi and sparked a national debate about the treatment of women across the country and the inability of law enforcement to protect them.
In an effort to address some of that criticism, the government set up five fast-track courts in the capital in recent weeks to deal swiftly with crimes against women. Authorities were eager to move the case into one of those courts, which are designed to avoid the delays, incompetence and corruption that plague much of India's legal system.
Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal dealt with several procedural issues during a session Thursday morning, and then reconvened the court in the afternoon for a second session at which she ordered the transfer to a fast-track court. The first hearing is to be held there on Monday.
A sixth suspect in the attack claims to be a juvenile and his case is being handled separately.
Lawyers for the five have said police mistreated their clients, including beating them to force them to confess to the December 16 crime.
V K Anand, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said Thursday that he would petition the Supreme Court to have the rape trial moved out of New Delhi because he doesn't believe his client could get a fair hearing in the capital.
Police say the victim and a male friend were heading home from an evening movie when they boarded a bus, where they were attacked by the six assailants. The attackers beat the man and took turns raping the woman and penetrated her repeatedly with a metal bar, causing massive internal injuries, police said. During the attack, the bus drove through a series of police checkpoints without incident, police said.
The victims were eventually dumped on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The attack focused attention on the little-discussed issue of sexual violence in a country where women are still often regarded as second-class citizens. Victims are often blamed for sexual attacks - by their families or authorities - and the shame of rape keeps many women from reporting such attacks.
Since the gang rape, though, sexual violence has become front-page news nearly every day across the country, with demands that the government do more to protect women and prosecute those that attack them. The government has established several committees to look into how such a horrific attack could occur and recommend changes in the law.