NEW DELHI (AFP) - Five men went on trial Monday over the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student as the victim's father urged the fast-track court to deliver swift justice and sentence her attackers to hang.
With the trial being heard behind closed doors, one of the prosecutors announced the case's start to reporters crowded outside the court. "The trial has begun," Dayan Krishnan told AFP. "The chargesheet has been submitted before the judge and the arguments will begin on January 24."
The five men face murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping and other charges, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.
The trial is being held in India's first "fast-track" court for rape victims set up to circumvent the country's notoriously slow justice system, with the bereaved family leading angry calls for speedy closure on the horrifying case. The trial's start was delayed until late in the afternoon Monday by a failed bid to overturn the reporting ban. Rape trials are held in camera in India to protect the identify of the victim. "The crime is against society at large. Society has the right to know what happens in the court," lawyer V.K. Anand told AFP.
The Supreme Court will hear Tuesday a bid by another defence lawyer, M.L. Sharma, to move the trial out of New Delhi where emotions over the death late last month of the 23-year-old medical student still are running high.
Sharma argued in his petition that anger "has gone into the root of each home in Delhi" and it would be impossible to "get justice".
The victim's father said her family would rest only once the culprits were convicted and hanged and he urged judge Yogesh Khanna to complete his work quickly.
"We have finished the mourning rituals for my daughter in the village but our mourning will not end until the court passes down its verdict. My daughter's soul will only rest in peace after the court punishes the men," the father told AFP. "It is the duty of the court and the judges to ensure that the final order to punish all the accused is handed down quickly and all the men are hanged.
"No man has the right to live after committing such a heinous crime."
A.P. Singh, a lawyer for one of the five men on trial, said his client was under 18 and should be tried in juvenile court where sentences are far more lenient. Police had said Vinay Sharma, a gym assistant, was 20.
Police are already investigating a claim by a sixth suspect that he is a minor and should be tried in juvenile court.
The December 16 assault ignited street protests across India - in particular in New Delhi which has been dubbed the country's "rape capital" over the high incidence of such attacks.
Though gang-rapes and sexual harassment are commonplace in India, the case has touched a nerve, leading to an outpouring of criticism about treatment of women.
Sonia Gandhi, president of India's ruling Congress party, on Sunday condemned the "shameful" social attitudes which she said led to crimes like gang-rape. The case had "shaken the entire country," she added.
Defence lawyers say they will enter not-guilty pleas.
The woman, a promising student whose father worked extra shifts as an airport baggage handler to educate her, suffered fatal internal injuries during the assault on the bus in which she was raped and attacked with an iron bar.
She died 13 days later after the government airlifted her to a Singapore hospital in a last-ditch bid to save her life.
Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan has said he has "sufficient evidence" against the accused to secure a conviction.
Police have gathered DNA evidence allegedly linking the defendants to the attack while the victim's hospital-bed declaration before her death and testimony from her 28-year-old companion are also set to be crucial.
India says it only imposes the death penalty in the "rarest of rare cases". Two months ago, it hanged the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks - the country's first execution in eight years.