India gang-rape trial starts with testimony from victim's friend

Tue Feb 5, 2013 8:26am EST
 

By Annie Banerji

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The trial of five men charged with gang-raping and murdering a young woman on a bus in New Delhi opened on Tuesday with closed-door testimony from her friend who appeared at court in a wheelchair, still bearing the scars of injuries from the attack.

The 28-year-old software engineer, who may not be identified, is the prosecution's star witness in a case that has triggered nationwide protests, an intense debate about rampant crime against women in India and tougher anti-rape laws.

The five accused are Vinay Sharma, a gym assistant, Ram Singh, the bus driver, his brother Mukesh Singh, bus cleaner Akshay Kumar Singh and fruit vendor Pawan Kumar. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of rape and murder. A sixth accused is being tried separately as a juvenile.

Police allege the six attacked the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist and her friend on the bus as the couple returned home from watching a movie on December 16. The woman was repeatedly raped and tortured with a metal bar. The couple were also severely beaten before being thrown onto a road.

The woman died of internal injuries in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.

As the trial got under way, the victim's father made a surprise appearance at a news conference organized by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to call for his daughter's attackers to be hanged.

At one stage, the friend, defense lawyers and some policemen moved from the courtroom to a courtyard where the bus on which police say the attack took place was parked.

Journalists saw some of them board the vehicle, which was white with tinted windows and orange curtains. Above the windshield was painted "Praise the Goddess" in Hindi.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators hold a banner during a candlelight march for a gang rape victim, who was assaulted in New Delhi January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi