India gang rape trial to be held in secret

 

The New Dehli bus rape and murder trial will be held behind closed doors, a judge has ruled.
 
The case is now due to start on Thursday and should avoid the long delays commonly associated with India's justice system, following a brief hearing at which Judge Yogesh Khanna rejected a defence application to make the proceedings public because of the sensitive nature of the crime.
 
The hearing was the first since the case was moved to a new fast-track court set up to deal specifically with crimes against women.
 
The five defendants' faces were covered by scarves as they arrived in the court, surrounded by police. A sixth suspect claims to be a juvenile and his case is being handled separately, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.
 
The judge told the lawyers to prepare for opening statements to begin on Thursday and agreed to hold the trial every day throughout the week, instead of allowing the gaps of weeks and months between hearings which are common in other Indian courts.
 
Defence lawyers are awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court on their application to have the trial moved out of New Delhi because of the strong emotions in the city about the case.
 
The victim and her fiance were going home from an evening out on December 16 when they boarded a bus where they were attacked by six men. The attackers beat the man and raped the woman, causing her massive injuries with a metal bar.
 
The victims were eventually dumped on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in hospital.
 
Lawyers for the accused say police mistreated their clients and beat them to force them to confess.
 
The attack has sparked demands for wholesale changes in the way the country deals with crimes against women. Many families pressure relatives who have been assaulted not to press charges, police often refuse to file cases for those who do and the few cases filed often get bogged down in India's court system, which had a backlog of 33 million cases in 2011.
 
In a sign of the sluggish pace of justice, only one of the 635 rape cases filed in the capital last year has so far ended in a conviction.
 
Police said many other cases were pending and it was not realistic to expect crimes committed late last year to have wound their way through the system yet.
 
New Delhi set up five fast-track courts in recent weeks to deal specifically with sexual assault cases, and the rape case is being heard in one of them.
 
Ranjana Kumari, a women's activist and director of the Centre for Social Research, a New Delhi based think tank, said the new courts were an important step for clearing some of the 95,000 rape cases pending in India.
 
"We need a system in which women can get justice quickly. Otherwise, in the normal course of things, it can take 10 or 12 or 14 years for cases to be taken up by the court. That is tantamount to denying justice to the victim," she said.

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