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 women, 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. The charge sheet was not released and he asked for a closed trial. A hearing was set for Saturday.
The men charged were Ram Singh, the bus driver; his brother Mukesh Singh, who cleans buses for the same company; 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 for the men.
The victim's father said he supported the death penalty.
"The toughest and the harshest punishment should be given," he said, adding 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. Police also detained the owner of the bus on accusations he used false documents to obtain permits to run the private bus service.
The Bar Association said its lawyers would not defend the suspects because of the nature of the crime, but the court was expected to appoint attorneys to defend them.
"Strict, strict, strict punishment should be given to them," said Ashima Sharma, an 18-year-old student attending a protest Thursday. "A very strict punishment... that all men of India should be aware that they are not going to treat the women like the way they treated her."
The woman was attacked Dec. 16 after boarding the bus with a male companion after watching an evening showing of the movie Life of Pi at an upscale mall. The vehicle was a charter bus that illegally picked up the two passengers, authorities said.
-- The Associated Press