The juvenile accused in the gang-rape and murder of an Indian student has appeared in court where he pleaded not guilty to all the charges and said he would contest the allegations.
According to several Indian media reports, a juvenile court in Delhi formally charged the 17-year-old with murder, rape, unnatural sex and conspiracy. According to a court schedule posted outside the building, police had brought a total of 17 charges against the teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The juvenile, who was originally from the state of Uttar Pradesh and who moved to Delhi as an 11-year-old where he took up a series of menial jobs, was one of six males detained after the attack last December on a the female student and her male friend.
The pair were assaulted and beaten and the young woman was repeatedly raped when they boarded a bus after a visit to the cinema. She died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The five men have been charged with gang-rape and their trial is proceeding in a fast-track court, from which the media and public have been banned. No detail of the evidence being heard in the Delhi court has been made available to the media, despite an appeal a higher judge.
The proceedings for the juvenile are taking place under similar conditions of privacy. On Wednesday, the judge hearing the case, principal magistrate Geetanjali Goel, declined to confirm to reporters even the most basic details. “At the end of the proceedings we will issue a judgement,” she said.
Two weeks ago, The Independent reported details of a statement purportedly recorded by police from the juvenile and presented as evidence. In the statement, the juvenile said that on the day of the attack, bus driver Ram Singh, one of the five adults charged over the killing, had told him “let’s go and have some fun today”.
The juvenile added: “Then Ram Singh was the first one to rape the girl. The girl kept screaming and howling but, in the moving bus, everybody raped her one by one. And they bit the girl on different parts of her body.”
The juvenile, who belongs to a Muslim family that lives near the town of Islam Nagar, also told police that after the six males had dumped the student and her male friend from the bus, they washed it off and then divided up the spoils of what they had stolen that night.
“I got one mobile and 1,100 rupees from the looted goods,” he said. “[Ram Singh] gave me one ATM card and asked me to keep it safe, [saying] ‘We will use it later to take out money’.”
The decision to try the 17-year-old as a juvenile rather than an adult, caused considerable consternation in India. Many argued that the law should be changed and that the age at which an individual is considered an adult altered to 16 rather than 18. The government declined to change the law and the authorities accepted school records that suggested he was born in June 4 1995.
As a result, while his five adult co-accused could face the death penalty if convicted, the maximum sentence he could face is three years detention in a juvenile facility. A member of his legal team previously said that the juvenile had been traumatised by watching television news reports that showed crowds demanding that he too should face the death penalty if found guilty.
The attack on the young woman and her male friend, 28-year-old Awindra Pandey, stunned India and triggered an unprecedented national debate about the role of women in Indian society and the ubiquity of sexual assaults. The government established a panel to come up with suggestions on how to improve the situation, some of which were taken up.
According to the Press Trust of India, the next hearing for the juvenile’s case was set for March 6 when the juvenile court will hear evidence relating to his alleged involvement in the assault on the young student.
The court hearing came as the Indian government announced a fund of Rupees 10bn (£125m) to help women’s safety. The fund will be called “Nirbhaya”, or fearless, the Hindi name that the Indian media has given to the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who tried to fight off her attackers.
“We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women. Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials,” said finance minister P Chidambaram, as he announced India’s budget.
He added: “As more women enter public spaces - for education or work or access to services or leisure - there are more reports of violence against them. We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women and we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure.”
According to Reuters, experts say the fund could be used for shelters, compensation and medical support for victims of rape, helplines, or public campaigns to change age-old patriarchal attitudes which promote violence against women.