NEW DELHI (AFP) - Five men charged with the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student in New Delhi will appear in court for the first time on Monday after police said they had forensic evidence to link to them to the killing.
The five, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are also charged with kidnap, robbery and conspiracy over the attack on a bus on Dec 16 that sparked protests in India and soul-searching about the levels of violence against women.
The defendants have been named as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vijay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta. A sixth accused, who is 17, is to be tried in a separate court for juveniles.
It normally takes months for the prosecution to assemble such a case, but the legal proceedings are getting underway barely a week after the 23-year-old medical student died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital.
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 who are aged between 17 and 35. 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.
Legal experts say the court in the Saket district of the capital would likely transfer the case to a more senior court during Monday's hearing.
"The court will ask them if they have lawyers and then it will appoint an Amicus Curiae (lawyer) to represent them and supply copies of the chargesheet to the accused," said Vishwender Verma, a senior advocate at Delhi High Court.
"The case will then be committed to a sessions court as a magistrates' court cannot try rape and murder cases." The student, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had spent the evening at a cinema with her boyfriend on the night of the attack. After failing to flag down an autorickshaw, they were lured onto a schoolbus they thought would take them home.
Instead, a gang are alleged to have taken it in turns to rape the young woman as well as sexually assault her with an iron bar that they also used to attack her companion. The pair were then thrown out of the moving vehicle.
Outlining their case before the same court in Saket on Saturday, prosecutors said there was DNA evidence to tie the defendants to the crime scene.
"The blood of the victim tallied with the stains found on the clothes of the accused," said Rajiv Mohan, part of the prosecution team.
He also said police had recovered possessions stolen from the victim and her boyfriend.
As well as the forensic and other evidence, the woman's boyfriend has testified to police and has reportedly identified the culprits.
In a weekend interview with AFP, the boyfriend said that passers-by ignored the naked and bloodied couple for 30 minutes after they were thrown out of the bus and police then wasted more time arguing over who had jurisdiction.
"The cruelty I saw should not be seen ever," the 28-year-old man, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, said.
There have been widespread calls for the attackers to be hanged, including from the victim's father.
"At first I wanted to see the men responsible face to face but I don't want to any more. I just want to hear that the courts have punished them and they will be hanged," he told Britain's People newspaper.
"Death for all six of them. These men are beasts. They should be made an example of and that society will not allow such things to happen." Rape cases are usually held behind closed doors in India and it will be up to the court to decide what the media will be allowed to report.
The police have issued an advisory saying "it shall not be lawful for any person to print or publish any matter in relation to such proceedings" unless they receive permission from the court.