Authorities formally charge five men in India gang rape case (+video)
The rape and murder charges were filed against the five men in a new Indian court, specially set up to handle crimes against women.
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The attack caused outrage across India, sparking protests and demands for tough new rape laws, better police protection and a sustained campaign to change society's views about women. The government has set up a series of panels to look into the incident and make reform recommendations, and women's activists hope the assault will mark a turning point for the country.Skip to next paragraph
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Outside the court, about 50 woman lawyers held a protest, demanding wholesale changes in the criminal justice system to ensure justice for women. "Punish the police, sensitize judiciary, eradicate rape," read one protester's sign.
Indian Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said the accused should be tried swiftly, but cautioned that they needed to be given a fair trial and not be subjected to mob justice.
"Let us not lose sight of the fact that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty," he told reporters Wednesday, while inaugurating the new fast-track court. "Let us balance things. Let us not get carried away. Provide justice in a fair but swift manner so that faith of people is once again restored that the judiciary is there behind the common man."
The government is to set up four other such courts in the capital to hold timely trials in sexual assault cases, which often get bogged down for years in India's notoriously sluggish court system. The new courts will send the message "that these matters are going to be dealt with seriously," Kabir said.
Many cases never even get to court in a country where there is intense social pressure against families reporting sexual assaults and where women are often blamed for the attacks they suffer. When women do report rapes, police often refuse to file charges and pressure the victims to reach a compromise with their attackers.
In a sign that attitudes toward such behavior might be changing, and that even powerful men are being held accountable, police in the northeastern state of Assam arrested a leader of the ruling Congress party Thursday on accusations he raped a woman in a village in the early hours of the morning.
Footage on Indian television showed the extraordinary scene of local women surrounding the man, ripping off his shirt and repeatedly slapping him across the face.
Police said the man, Bikram Singh Brahma, was visiting the village of Santipur on the Bhutan border when he entered a woman's house and raped her at about 2 a.m. Amid the screams, villagers ran to the home and captured the man, said G.P. Singh, a senior police officer in the area.
"We are taking this issue very seriously," Singh said.
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