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Five Men Charged In India Gang-Rape And Murder Case

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

In New Delhi, five men have been formally charged with rape and murder in the assault of a young student last month. The case unleashed public anger across India, along with demands to overhaul the system that handles crimes against women. The suspects were also charged with the attempted murder of the young woman's companion who was beaten unconscious but survived the assault.

NPR's Julie McCarthy was at the courthouse today and sent this report.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The charges were filed after normal court hours were over. The police say the reason for the delay was a glitch in the electronic filing of what is a 1,000-page long charge sheet. It purports to lay out a grisly set of facts against five of the accused and is to remain sealed.

But local journalists who shared knowledge of its contents say that the prime accused in the attack on a moving bus was the driver, Ram Singh, reputed to be quick-tempered and a heavy drinker. He had regularly transported schoolchildren in the same bus. Ram Singh is alleged to have encouraged his brother, another defendant, to mow down the 23-year-old rape victim after she had been thrown from the bus along with her badly beaten male companion.

The couple were said to have been lured onto the bus, believing that three of the accused were simply passengers. Another issued them tickets to make the ride appear legitimate. Two of the charges are criminal conspiracy and a common intention to commit a crime.

The sixth accused is alleged to have been the most brutal of the group and the first to taunt the couple about being out together at night, but he is not being tried with the five other men. Police today said he was 17 years old and therefore a minor and cannot be tried for murder.

At the brief hearing, the police pressed for an in-camera trial, ostensibly to shield the victim's family from further anguish. But Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, says it is ill-advised in a case of such huge public interest.

RANJANA KUMARI: From our point of view, there is absolutely no reason why the trial should be held in secrecy. We are absolutely of the opinion that it should be open. People want to see. People want to know, hear. And everybody wants to know every detail of it. What is there to hide?

MCCARTHY: Had it not been for an aggressive Indian media that banged at the door of the sealed courtroom today and demanded entry, the charges would have been registered with no member of the public or press to witness it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

MCCARTHY: None of the accused was inside the court, but the passions they invoked were obvious outside where demonstrators cried: Guarantee punishment for the accused. Mass demonstrations moved India's Supreme Court to establish a special court to hear this and other cases of sexual violence.

Attorney Poonam Kaushik of the Progressive Women's Association says a fast-track court is imperative.

POONAM KAUSHIK: The fair and speedy trial in all sexual assault cases should be ensured. The long court procedures, the insensitive medical administration, the insensitive attitude of the police should be done away with.

MCCARTHY: Two women, Vinni and Tulsi, who offered their first names only, hoped for a glimpse at the case that could set precedents and a sense of accountability. They could not contain their fury. First Vinni, then Tulsi.

VINNI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCCARTHY: If it were in my power, says Vinni, I'd chop off the hands of those men and happily go to jail. No women will want to give birth to girls in this country, adds Tulsi. And then men, she says, will be left by themselves.

The case resumes Saturday.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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