NEW DELHI (AFP) - A gang of men accused of repeatedly raping a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in a deadly crime that repulsed the nation are to appear in court on Thursday for the first time.
Police are to formally charge five suspects with rape, kidnapping and murder after the woman died at the weekend from the horrific injuries inflicted on her during an ordeal that has galvanised disgust over rising sex crimes in India.
It was unclear if a sixth suspect believed to be a minor aged 17 would appear in the Saket district court in south New Delhi. Police have ordered a bone test to determine his age and whether he can stand trial in an adult court.
The men, mostly residents of New Delhi slums, will face the death penalty if convicted, India's Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has said, amid public clamour for their execution.
"It is compulsory for all the accused (to) present themselves before the magistrate," Mr Rana Dasgupta, a legal officer at the court, explained to AFP.
The magistrate "will admit the charge sheet presented by the police and then give a copy of the charge sheet to all the accused."
This document - reportedly 1,000 pages long - will lay out the evidence collected, the most powerful of which is expected to be a statement from the victim after the attack and an account from her boyfriend who was with her at the time.
He was beaten during his attempts to save the medical student after the couple were lured onto the private bus by the reportedly drunk gang after watching a film at night.
Lawyers at the court in New Delhi told AFP that they would not defend the suspects, meaning that the government would have to appoint advocates for what will be a fast-tracked trial.
"We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused, as it would be immoral to defend the case," Mr Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and member of the Saket District Bar Council, told AFP.
Protesters have massed in India cities daily since the Dec 16 assault demanding the government do more to combat crime against women, with tougher penalties for offenders and even chemical castration being considered.
The offence, though far from rare in a country where gang rapes are commonplace, has led to deep soul-searching in the media and the country's political class about the treatment of Indian women.
Analysis has focused on the deeply patriarchal Indian society, in which misogyny and sexism run deep and women are often second-class citizens, as well as the difficulty of rape victims in dealing with social stigma and the police.
On Dec 28, it emerged that a 17-year-old girl had committed suicide after police allegedly tried to persuade her to drop a complaint of gang-rape and instead either accept a cash settlement or even marry one of her attackers.
Amid the focus, news reports have highlighted a catalogue of gruesome sex crimes which would normally barely feature in the newspapers, including the alleged rape of a girl by two men in Delhi on New Year's Eve.
A recent poll found India to be the worst in the G-20 group of nations for women because of child marriage, abuse and female foeticide, which has led to a badly skewed sex ratio in the country of 1.2 billion people.