NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prosecutors sought the death sentence on Wednesday for four men convicted of the gang rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus last December, saying the "diabolical" crime had shocked the country's conscience.
Judge Yogesh Khanna is hearing arguments in a fast-track court in the south of the Indian capital as he considers how to punish the men who were found guilty of "cold-blooded murder" on Tuesday.
He faces widespread calls from the public and leading politicians to hand down the death sentence, which can be given for "the rarest of rare" crimes but is seldom carried out in practice.
"The court should give the maximum sentence otherwise the message will go to society that deviance of this nature will be tolerated," special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the packed court.
"The test is 'was the collective conscience shocked?'. There can be no better example than this case," he said, calling the crime "diabolical" in which "no element of sympathy" had been shown to the victim.
"The sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death," he added.
The 23-year-old victim, a physiotherapy student who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of grievous internal injuries on December 29 after being lured on to the private bus following a cinema trip with a male companion.
After beating up the friend, the gang brutally assaulted her behind tinted windows for 45 minutes before flinging the bloodied, naked and barely conscious couple from the vehicle on a road leading to the international airport.
The four convicts - Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh - were led into the court by armed police and stood at the back of the court wearing t-shirts and displaying no outward emotion.
The mother of the victim, an ambitious student who was on the verge of becoming the family's first professional, could be seen seated next to her husband as she listened intently to proceedings while dressed in a green sari.
"The manner (in which) they committed this crime and destroyed a life, they should not get anything less then the death sentence," she told NDTV television late on Tuesday.
The defence lawyers acting for the men argued that there was political pressure for an execution.
Vivek Sharma, a defence lawyer for Gupta, who was 19 at the time of the crime, argued that life imprisonment should be the sentence for a crime committed on the "spur of the moment".
"The court must bear in mind that life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence is the exception," he said, adding that there was a possibility of reforming Gupta because of his "tender age".
The case brought simmering public anger over rape and harassment to the boil, sparking unprecedented protests, tougher new laws to tackle sex crime and a bout of introspection about India's treatment of women.
Policemen with batons stood guard outside the court on Wednesday morning, warning they would not tolerate a repeat of the chaotic scenes of Tuesday when a fight broke out between Indian journalists as they waited for the verdicts.
The judge convicted the men on 11 charges including gang rape, murder, theft and "unnatural offences" and it is not known how long he will consider his sentence.
Prosecutor Krishnan urged him to consider a precedent for executing a murderer and rapist in the case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a 39-year-old watchman who was hanged in 2004 over the death of a 14-year-old girl in the eastern city of Kolkata.
Protesters gathered outside the court on Tuesday to demand the four be hanged, some wearing makeshift nooses and black hoods.
Welcoming Tuesday's verdict, The Times of India newspaper added its voice to a clamour for the death penalty.
"Considering the heinous crime... the most severe punishment for its perpetrators is fully justified," it said in an editorial.
The government, stung by the mass protests that followed the attack, has introduced tough new anti-rape laws but they will not apply in this case.
One of the leaders of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ms Sushma Swaraj, said the hanging of the four would send out a clear signal of India's determination to tackle violence against women.
"If they are awarded the death sentence, it would become a model for the country and effectively curb incidents of rapes," she told reporters.
There was outrage last month when a juvenile who was also convicted of taking part in the attack was sentenced to three years in a remedial home - the maximum punishment allowed by law.
A fifth adult defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found hanging in his prison cell in March while awaiting trial.