New Delhi, India
The five men charged with the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old year old medical student in Delhi have been ordered to appear in court on Monday. It will be their first public appearance since being detained two days after the attack three weeks ago.
The men's full trial is due to start in a week in a new fast-track court inaugurated last week specifically to deal with sexual violence against women. A sixth accused, a juvenile, will be tried separately.
Feelings are still running high in India, with many calling for wholesale reforms of laws and policing. The incident has also provoked a fierce debate on attitudes to women. Protests have occurred in neighbouring countries, inspired by the ongoing demonstrations in India.
In his first interview since the attack, the male friend of the victim, who died in a Singapore hospital eight days ago, has described how passers-by left the pair lying unclothed and bleeding in the street for almost an hour.
The graphic account in a television interview is likely to add fuel to public anger over the death in a country where official statistics show that one rape is reported every 20 minutes and where sexual harassment of women in public places is systematic.
The woman's friend told the Zee News TV network that he was beaten unconscious with a metal bar by her attackers before the pair were thrown off the bus. They had boarded it in the mistaken belief it would take them home after an evening watching the film Life of Pi at a nearby shopping centre cinema. The women was raped for more than an hour and suffered internal injuries after an assault with an iron bar.
The pair lay on the roadside for around 45 minutes before three police vans arrived. Officers then spent a long time arguing about where to take them, the man said. "We kept shouting at the police, 'Please give us some clothes,' but they were busy deciding which police station our case should be registered at," the man said in Hindi.
Eventually, the officers fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel. The man said he himself, despite serious injuries, carried the victim to a police vehicle.
Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told Reuters that GPS records show the first police van reaching the scene four minutes after it was called. He said it left after seven minutes and arrived at a hospital within 24 minutes.
The friend described the pair's attempts to call for help during the attack. "We were shouting, trying to make people hear us. But they switched off the lights of the bus," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
When they were finally thrown out at a roadside near the city's airport, they pleaded with passers-by for help, he added in the studio interview. A blue metal crutch was leaning against his chair.
"There were a few people who had gathered round, but nobody helped. My friend was grievously injured and bleeding profusely. We were without clothes. We tried to stop passers-by. Several auto rickshaws, cars and
bikes slowed down but none stopped for about 25 minutes. Then, someone on patrolling, stopped and called the police.," he said.
The man also criticised delays and care at the public hospital where the pair were taken. He said they were again left without clothes or treatment for a protracted period.
Neither the woman nor her friend have been named and the TV channel that ran the interview is under investigation by police who claim it has threatened their anonymity.
His revelations will fuel further criticism of authorities in India who have alternated between public statements promising future reforms and a barely disguised contempt for the largely urban middle-class protestors who have taken to the streets over recent weeks. Huge gaps in the provision of security, healthcare and other basic services supposedly provided by the state have been exposed by the tragedy, deepening public anger.
Metro stations in Delhi have been closed to prevent gatherings in the city centre. Thousands of police were deployed to protect parliament buildings and the homes of senior officials after the news of the attack spread.
Analysts point to a growing gulf between a government used to a traditional opaque and paternalist style of politics and the accountability demanded by new voters.
The victim's friend called on the protests to continue. "If you can help someone, help them. If a single person had helped me that night, things would have been different. There is no need to close Metro stations and stop the public from expressing themselves. People should be allowed to have faith in the system," he said.
He also said he wished people had come to his friend's help when she needed it: "You have to help people on the road when they need help."
According to Indian newspapers, the victim had to give a detailed statement twice because of an administrative dispute between officials. Her friend said he lay on a stretcher for four days in a police station without medical assistance after the attack.
By Jason Burke, The Guardian, January 5, 2013