Pushed in a wheelchair and his leg wrapped in a blue bandage, the male friend of the Indian student who was gang-raped and left for dead went to court to confront the five men charged with her murder and to testify against them.
Awindra Pandey, the 28-year-old companion of the physiotherapy student, was wheeled into the court in south Delhi by his father. Mr Pandey, an IT professional declined to speak to the media but his father told the AFP: “My son will go to any lengths to ensure that the guilty are punished. He will cooperate and is prepared to answer any questions posed by the defence.”
Mr Pandey, who suffered serious injuries as he tried to protect the young woman who was repeatedly raped and assaulted, was the first of up to 80 witnesses expected to reveal what they heard or saw on December 16 last year when the couple were attacked after leaving the cinema and boarding a bus. The testimony of the young woman, who spoke with police before she died two weeks after the attack, will also comprise part of the prosecution’s case.
The media has been banned from attending the hearing, taking place just a few hundred metres from the cinema complex where the pair had watched the Life of Pi film before boarding the bus they had believed would drop them home. But courtroom 305 is a modestly sized room and it would have been difficult for Mr Pandey not to have seen the five accused, who were taken into the court by police with their faces covered.
After the lunch interval, Mr Pandey was taken to the car-park of the court where he was asked to identify the white bus on which the attack is said to have taken place. Accompanied by police, the lawyers of the five accused and a trailing crowd of reporters, Mr Pandey spent around 10 minutes looking at the vehicle, which bore the name and the phone number of the owner, Dinesh Yadav.
The 23-year-old medical student died in a Singapore hospital on December 29 from massive internal injuries she sustained during the two hour assault aboard a bus a fortnight earlier. The case triggered an outcry across the country and sparked a rare examination of the treatment of women.
Five men have been accused of rape and murder. They have all denied the allegations. A sixth male accused, who is aged 17, is being dealt with by a juvenile court.
Mr Pandey, a software specialist, was the first prosecution witness at the special fast track court in Saket, one of half-a-dozen such tribunals that were established in the aftermath of the attack. In addition to the ban on the media, lawyers for the accused have been told not to speak to reporters.
In the aftermath of the attack, the Indian authorities vowed to do more to protect women from sexual assaults and established a panel to take recommendations from the public. The panel recommended tougher laws, women judges to hear cases and better training of police.
It said the government should not necessarily introduce the death penalty for rape as they believed rapists might be more included to kill their victims to prevent them giving evidence. The panel also said soldiers who carry out rapes should not be protected from prosecution as they currently are.
So far, the government has opted to introduce some of the measures through a special ordinance. It has refused to include marital rape and has declined to dilute the measures of the so-called ‘special powers act’ that relates to soldiers on duty. Women’s groups have widely condemned the measures as not doing enough.
Meanwhile, the father of the student who was killed, repeated his request that his daughter’s name be made public. Under Indian law, it is illegal to identify a rape victim, even after their death, without the authorisation of the family.
At a press conference organised by the main political opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the father also repeated his view that all six accused should dace the death penalty.
“We are hurt when she is called a gang-rape victim. She is the daughter of the nation,” said the woman’s father, according to the Press Trust of India. “We want her name to be known to the people. She is really a braveheart. She awoke the consciousness of the nation.”