SHAFAQNA(Shia International News Association)--The trial of five men accused of the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus was set to open in a special "fast-track" court established to deliver speedy justice.
Monday's transfer of the rape case from a district court to the fast track court, a decision which is largely procedural, comes as emotions continue to run high in India over the brutal attack on the student in mid-December.
The incident led to violent street protests over the lack of safety for women, and impassioned calls for harsher laws to punish rapists.
The five men face murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping and other charges, with prosecutors expected to demand the death penalty.
A sixth suspect, who claims he is 17, will be heard by a separate juvenile court.
The trial is being held in a fast-track court to circumvent India's notoriously slow and clogged up justice system, with the victim's family leading widespread calls for quick closure on the horrifying case.
Proceedings are expected to begin at 2:30pm local time (0900 GMT), according to defence lawyer VK Anand.
Plea to transfer trial
India's Supreme Court agreed on Monday to consider a plea by defence counsel to transfer the trial.
The court agreed to hear the plea on Tuesday after ML Sharma, counsel for defendant Mukesh Singh, said it would be impossible for his client to receive a fair hearing in the same city where the December 16 attack took place.
Defence lawyers say they will enter not-guilty pleas and accuse police of torturing the adult defendants - aged between 19 and 35 - to confess.
But prosecutors say they have DNA evidence linking the defendants to the attack in which the student and a male companion were assaulted on a bus as it was driven around the city, having been picked up after seeing a movie.
The prosecutors also have the victim's hospital-bed declaration before her death and testimony from her 28-year-old companion who took part in identification parades after the ordeal.
Senior prosecutor Rajiv Mohan, who has vowed to seek the death penalty for the "heinous" crime, has said that "we have sufficient evidence against all the accused" to secure a conviction.
The woman, a promising student whose father worked extra shifts as an airport baggage handler to educate her, suffered massive intestinal injuries during the assault in which she was raped and violated with an iron bar.
She died 13 days later after the government airlifted her to a top Singapore hospital in a last bid to save her life.
Though gang-rapes and sexual harassment are commonplace in India, the case has touched a nerve, leading to an outpouring of criticism of the treatment of women in the Indian society and an apparent rise in violent sex crime.
Sonia Gandhi, president of India's ruling Congress party, used a keynote speech Sunday to condemn the "shameful" social attitudes that led to crimes such as the fatal gang-rape.
"We cannot tolerate shameful social mindsets that lead to unspeakable atrocities on women and children... every woman in the country has the fundamental right to feel safe and secure," Gandhi, the country's most powerful politician, told her party.
The five adult suspects have already made several appearances in a city court in south New Delhi. Their case was transferred to the fast-track court for trial last week by a magistrate.
In the city court, proceedings were subject to a media blocking order that prevented journalists from revealing events inside the court room.
Defence lawyer VK Anand told AFP news agency he would contest the reporting ban, saying "this trial should be transparent".