A city court Saturday framed charges of murder, gang-rape, kidnapping and on 10 other counts against five accused involved in the Dec 16 rape of a 23-year-old woman, paving the way for their trial from Tuesday as Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi went to meet the family of the dead woman.
The court ruling was welcomed by the families of the trainee physiotherapist and her male friend. They voiced hope that the fast-track court would hand down quick punishment to the accused.
Additional Sessions Judge Yogendra Khanna framed the charges under 13 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The five accused are bus driver Ram Singh; his brother Mukesh; Pawan Gupta, a fruit seller; Vinay Sharma, a gym instructor; and Akshay Thakur, a bus cleaner. They are currently in Tihar Jail.
The other charges framed against them are commiting an unnatural offence, destruction of evidence, attempt to murder, causing hurt while committing robbery, dacoity with murder, and common intent.
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and some MPs visited the victim's family in south west Delhi and spent an hour with them. The Congress chief hugged the woman's mother and cried, a source told IANS.
The Juvenile Justice Board has declared the sixth accused, who is six months younger than 18 years according to his school certificate, a minor last month. His case will be heard by the board.
The dead woman's family told IANS they hoped the fast-track court would deliver the judgment by the month-end. "We are hopeful about an early judgment," said the woman's brother.
The young woman, who was gang-raped by six males in a moving bus, was thrown off alongwith her male friend on the road - bloodied and without clothes. She died Dec 29 in a Singapore hospital, where she had been airlifted for specialised treatment . Her friend is the main witness in the case.
Pre-trial proceedings in the case started Jan 21 at the fast-track court which was set up following nation-wide outrage over the incident and against rising crimes against women.
The accused were formally charged by police Jan 3 in the Saket court, 18 days after the brutal gang-rape.
The chargesheet, with annexures, runs into thousands of pages and includes the victim's statement, details of the accused, evidence and forensic reports.
All the accused were arrested between Dec 17-21, 2012.
Speaking to IANS, the woman's father said he was happy about the court decision. According to Indian laws, a rape victim and her family cannot be named due to issues of privacy.
"I feel that the five accused, except the sixth who is a juvenile, will be convicted by the end of February," he said.
The victim's younger brother told IANS: "I request the court to hang the five accused."
"My sister wanted the accused to be burnt alive. My family's wish is to hang five of the six accused. In case of the sixth accused, police should approach the higher court for his bone ossification test," he added.
The father of the woman's 28-year-old male friend, a software engineer who was badly beaten up when he tried to rescue the woman, told IANS that they welcome the court's decision.
"My son, the only eyewitness in the case, will appear before the fast-track court Feb 5. He will tell the court what had happened that night," the father, a lawyer, said.
"I think the decision will come soon as the trial will be held in a fast-track court," he said.
He said they would challenge the decision of the Juvenile Justice Board that the sixth accused is a minor.
"As per law, a complainant can challenge the decision of the Juvenile Justice Board before a sessions judge within 60 days," he said.
The juvenile was the main accused who instigated all the accused to physically assault the woman victim and use an rod.
The union cabinet Friday approved an ordinance for enhanced punishment in cases of crimes against women, including sexual assault, acid attacks, voyeurism and trafficking, as suggested by the Justice J.S. Verma Committee.
The government recommended to President Pranab Mukherjee that an ordinance be issued.
The Verma Committee, set up by the government Dec 23 last year after the gang-rape to review laws to provide speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault, submitted its report Jan 23.