NEW DELHI — Five men accused of raping a university student for hours on a bus as it drove through India's capital were charged Thursday with murder, rape and other crimes that could bring them the death penalty.
The attack on the 23-year-old woman, who died of severe internal injuries over the weekend, provoked a fierce debate across India about the routine mistreatment of females and triggered daily protests demanding action.
There have been signs of change since the attack. Rapes, often ignored, have become front-page news, politicians have called for tougher laws, including the death penalty and chemical castration for rapists, and the government is examining wide-scale reforms in the criminal justice system's handling of sexual assaults. Activists say the tragedy could mark a turning point for women's rights.
In a nation where court cases often linger for years, the government set up a special fast-track court Wednesday to deal with crimes against woman, and that is where the charges against the five men were filed Thursday evening. The government said it planned to open four more such courts in the city.
Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan filed a case of rape, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, murder and other charges against the men. He asked for a closed trial.
The men charged were Ram Singh, the bus driver; his brother Mukesh Singh, who cleans buses; Pavan Gupta, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, a fitness trainer. They did not appear in court. Authorities have said they would push for the death penalty.
The victim's father said he supported the death penalty and said he thought a new law should be named after his daughter.
A sixth suspect, listed as a 17-year-old, was expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.
The woman was attacked Dec. 16 after boarding the bus with a male companion. The pair were attacked for hours as the bus drove through the city and eventually dumped naked on the side of the road.
The woman was assaulted with an iron bar and suffered fatal internal injuries.