Indians gather for a candlelight vigil Thursday in memory of a gang-rape… (Tsering Topgyal / Associated…)
NEW DELHI — Indian authorities on Thursday said they will seek the death penalty against five men accused of raping and fatally beating a woman on a bus in the country’s capital, an attack that has sparked a wave of protests over the mistreatment of women.
Authorities also said they have established a special fast-track court to expedite the cases of the men, who face a host of charges including murder, rape, kidnapping and destruction of evidence. The 23-year-old victim died Saturday at a Singapore hospital of severe internal injuries suffered in the attack.
The woman, a university student, had boarded a bus in New Delhi with a male companion Dec. 16 when her attackers shut the bus’s curtains, gang-raped her, and beat her and her companion repeatedly with iron rods, according to authorities. The victims allegedly were then thrown off the bus, naked and unconscious, onto the roadside.
A sixth defendant is a juvenile under Indian law and faces a maximum of three years in jail if convicted.
The case has generated outrage throughout the country, with demonstrators amassing in the streets daily and demanding sweeping reforms in the handling of rape cases. Gang rape is common in India, and even when cases make it to court, they often linger there for years.
The fast-track court set up to deal with the case will also be used to handle all cases of crimes against women, authorities said. The government plans to open four additional fast-track courts elsewhere in the capital.
“A serious message needs to be sent in dealing with such heinous crimes,” Indian Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said Wednesday.
Indian media reported widespread support for the application of the death penalty against the men, if they are convicted. Speaking to reporters in his home village in the central state of Uttar Pradesh, the girl’s father said he also wanted the attackers executed. “The whole country is demanding that these monsters be hanged,” Reuters reported the father as saying. “I am with them.” The woman and her family have not been identified, in accordance with Indian law.
Prosecutors appeared in court Thursday and formally submitted a charge sheet laying out the allegations against the men. According to the charge sheet, prosecutors have DNA evidence linking the men to the attack, along with statements made by the victim before her death Saturday and by her companion. A hearing on the case was scheduled for Saturday.
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Special correspondent Tanvi Sharma reported from New Delhi and Times Staff Writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.