Three of the men accused of raping and murdering an Indian student have asked lawyers to defend them and the lawyers have agreed to do so, even though most of the judiciary has refused to represent the suspects because of outrage over the attack.
Five men and a teenager have been accused of the December 16 attack but with public anger simmering, most lawyers in the district where the trial will be held have ruled out representing them.
But two lawyers, V. K. Anand and Manohar Lal Sharma, offered to defend the five men when they appeared in a New Delhi court for the first time on Monday, despite the condemnation of their legal colleagues.
The lawyers said on Tuesday three of the five had asked to be represented by them.
“I understand the sentiments of the people. But you cannot go by sentiments,” Anand told Reuters news agency.
“The accused have a right to justice just as the victim has.”
Legal experts had said a lack of representation for the five could give grounds for appeal if they were found guilty.
Convictions in similar cases have often been overturned years later.
The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died two weeks after being beaten and gang-raped on a moving bus in New Delhi, then thrown bleeding onto the street.
Protests followed, along with a fierce public debate over police failure to stem rampant violence against women.
Anger in the court
Following shouting and angry scenes in the packed court on Monday, the magistrate, Namrita Aggarwal, closed the pre-trial hearing to the media and the public. The court was cleared and police were posted at its doors before the accused were brought in.
“Keeping in view the sensitivity of this case that has risen, the proceedings including the inquiry and trial are to be
held in camera,” Aggarwal said.
She said the next hearing would be on Thursday.
Two of the defendants had been offering evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence, public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said.
He said he was seeking the death sentence given the “heinous” crime.
“The five accused persons deserve not less than the death penalty,” he said, echoing public sentiment and calls from the victim’s family.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Delhi, said: “The prosecutors say they have a very, very tight case against them. People are watching closely to see what happens to those accused.”
The five, including a 17-year-old who will go to a juvenile court, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi, inflicting fatal injuries on her. She died two weeks later on December 28 in a Singapore hospital.
The court appearance comes days after police said they discovered forensic evidence to link them to the killing.
The defendants were named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vijay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta.
The attack on December 16 sparked protests in India and soul-searching about levels of violence against women.
The government, sensitive to criticism that a sluggish justice system often compounds the agony of victims, has pledged to fast-track the case against the defendants. They all live in Delhi.
Police have pledged “maximum security” during the hearing at the magistrates’ court amid fears for the defendants’ safety.
A man was arrested last week as he allegedly tried to plant a crude bomb near the home of one of the men.
As prosecution of the suspects got under way, legal experts called for an overhaul of the country’s judicial system.