Delhi rape case put on fast track
India's Chief Justice orders daily hearings to speed up proceedings
NEW DELHI - The fatal gang- rape case that has shocked the nation has been put on a fast track in India's notoriously sluggish court system even as lawyers refused to defend the five men and one teen accused in the case.
India's Chief Justice Altamas Kabir ordered daily hearings to speed up proceedings yesterday, a day before police file a 1,000- page chargesheet against the accused today. Rape cases routinely take years to be heard in India.
The move followed mass protests sparked by the vicious assault on a 23-year-old physiotherapy student. She died last Saturday in a Singapore hospital, where she had been flown for treatment, two weeks after being savagely raped and beaten on a bus.
Her death fuelled street demonstrations demanding that the government and police crack down on sex crimes, speed up the prosecution of alleged rapists and impose tougher sentences.
The Supreme Court today will also start hearing a petition from retired government official Promilla Shanker to set up fast-track courts for all pending rape cases in the country.
"The government has been under pressure and is moving fast. They are looking at how to get out of the dilemma," said Dr N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies.
"Even though fast-track courts are not a new concept, they are needed."
Breaking with precedent, the rape case will be heard on a day-to-day basis once it begins. Other fast-track courts for trying sexual offences against women will begin sitting in New Delhi this week.
However, lawyers in a local court in Saket, an upmarket section of South Delhi, said they could not bring themselves to defend the six males accused in the assault.
"This was an inhuman act and it is not tolerable. Although we are professionals and legally bound, the bar association has decided that no one from this court complex will defend the accused in the gang-rape case," Mr Karnail Singh, honorary secretary of the association, told The Straits Times. "The court may provide a lawyer from outside."
In 2008, Mumbai lawyers refused to defend Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman involved in the Mumbai terror attacks in which 166 people were killed. The court was forced to appoint a lawyer, and he was provided with security during the trial.
Yesterday, hundreds of women, including Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, marched through Delhi's streets in a silent protest for an end to violence against women.
The federal government, shaken by the size of the protests and intensity of public anger, has quickly put in place a series of measures, from setting up fast-track courts to setting up a jurist panel to amend the country's criminal justice Act.
The first of the five fast-track courts in Delhi was inaugurated yesterday. Elsewhere in India, 1,500 fast-track courts have been set up since 2001.
But they have faced funding issues since the federal government stopped paying for them in 2011 and left it up to the states to provide funding.
Delhi has also posted home guards on late-night Delhi buses and launched training programmes for police officials on how to deal with rape cases and a government helpline for women.
The southern state of Maharashtra has proposed that every police station have a unit assigned to women's cases and Karnataka has proposed surveillance cameras in all taxis and state buses.
There is also growing demand for the victim to be identified and honoured.
Junior Minister for Education Shashi Tharoor suggested that the amended law be named after the young woman in a posting on Twitter.
The victim's father told the Press Trust of India news agency that he would not object to his daughter's identity being revealed.
"If the government names the revised anti-rape law after her, (the family has) no objection and it would be an honour to her," he said.
Ms Shanker's petition also asks for the suspension of all lawmakers from the national and state legislatures who are facing prosecution for crimes against women.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, six state legislators have been charged with rape and two national legislators from the southern state of Tamil Nadu and eastern state of West Bengal face charges involving crimes against women.