New Delhi gang-rape suspects charged with murder, rape, kidnapping

Thursday, January 3, 2013 - 10:06am

(CNN) -- The men accused in the gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old Indian woman were formally charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in a New Delhi court Thursday, a senior police official said.

The attack on the woman, who died from her severe injuries last week, has appalled and enraged many Indians, prompting widespread debate over the way the country handles sexual assaults and the treatment of women in Indian society.

Numerous protests have taken place, new laws have been proposed and senior lawyers in the court district where the accused men have been charged say they will not represent them.

Police submitted charges against five suspects before a new fast-track court in Saket, a southern district of New Delhi, said Suman Nalwa, deputy police commissioner of a special unit for women and children.

He said authorities were waiting for the outcome of a bone marrow test before deciding whether a sixth suspect in the attack, believed to be a minor, will be charged as a juvenile or an adult.

The results of the test, intended to determine the suspect's exact age, should come soon, Nalwa said.

The trial will begin this week once all the evidence is gathered, he said.

The victim, whose name has not been released, died Saturday in a Singapore hospital, where she received treatment after being airlifted from New Delhi.

The men are accused of assaulting the woman and her male companion on a bus in the Indian capital on December 16, robbing them of their belongings before dumping them at the side of a road, police said.

The male companion was eventually discharged from a local hospital.

Street protests, which have been taking place every day since the woman's death, continued Thursday in New Delhi.

Authorities plan to seek the death penalty for the accused, CNN affiliate IBN reported, with many calls for the men to be hanged, including from the victim's family.

If the sixth accused is confirmed to be a minor, he could be sent to a children's home for a maximum of three years, according to IBN.

The 11 lawyers who make up the executive board of the Saket Bar Association on Wednesday vowed not to represent any of the accused assailants because of the nature of the crime.

In addition, the bar association has appealed to its 7,000 members also to refrain from representing the accused, said the association's president, Rajpal Kasana.

"We are not taking this case on the grounds of humanity," he said.

The boycott by the bar association does not mean the accused will not have lawyers. Attorneys from other districts or ones appointed by the court will likely fill that role.

The call for local lawyers to avoid defending the accused is unprecedented, but justified because "everyone is emotionally attached to this case," Kasana said.

Lawmakers are weighing a proposal to toughen the country's anti-rape law. Some have suggested a new law should be named after the woman, while others have said it's illegal to reveal her identity.

The victim's father told IBN that he supported naming a new law after his daughter.

"All I ask is that the law is the toughest it can be," he said. "The death penalty is compulsory for a crime so grave the assailants must be hanged. The courts must give these men the death penalty."

CNN iReporter Meera Vijayann, a consultant for a non-governmental organization from Bangalore, India, said sexual harassment is a daily problem for women -- but it was the horrific nature of the New Delhi attack and the brazenness of the alleged perpetrators that frightened so many people.

Despite calls for harsher punishments for those who carry out such crimes, Vijayann feels only a change in attitudes and culture will truly bring about change.

"There is a sexist mindset, politicians have made silly remarks about women and how they should wear modest clothes, not go to parties ... if they make the laws how will it benefit us?" she asked. "People have to change the way they think."

India's Supreme Court will hear a petition Thursday asking it to suspend all lawmakers who face charges for crimes against women. The petition was filed in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape, which sent thousands of outraged protesters to the streets for days.

"This unfortunate episode has galvanized the nation," said Jagdeep S. Chhokar, an official with the Association for Democratic Reforms, which tracks political candidates' criminal records.

Chhokar said six Indian state lawmakers are facing rape charges in unrelated cases, and two people in the federal parliament are also facing charges of crimes against women that fall short of rape.

The group says that in the past five years, political parties across India have nominated 260 candidates facing charges of crimes against women such as assault and outraging the modesty of a woman.

-- CNN's Jethro Tull reported from Hong Kong, Aliza Kassam from Atlanta, and Sarah Brown contributed to this report from London.

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