NEW DELHI — Police filed formal charges of rape and murder in a New Delhi court Thursday against five men accused of gang-raping a 23-year-old woman aboard a moving bus, an incident that sparked nationwide outrage and grief .
The young woman, a medical student, died Saturday at a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment of severe injuries and infections.
Her name has not been released, in accordance with Indian law, which prohibits the naming of sexual assault victims.
Police arrested six suspects, including the bus driver, his brother and friends. But Thursday’s charge sheet did not include the sixth person because he has told authorities that he is a juvenile.
The sixth individual, who also is suspected of sexually assaulting the woman, has undergone a medical test to confirm his age, police said. If he is found to be underage, he will face charges in a separate juvenile justice court.
The charges, filed late in the day, include gang rape, murder, unnatural offenses, kidnapping, robbery and destruction of evidence, a police official told reporters.
According to the Press Trust of India, police sought court permission to keep the charges sealed, to protect the identity of the victim, and asked that the trial be closed to the public. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Saturday.
The victim and a male friend were returning home from a movie Dec. 16 when they were brutally beaten — and the woman was raped — on the bus, a privately owned vehicle that ferried schoolchildren during the day.
The bus was supposed to be off the road when the incident occurred, but the driver, his brother and their friends were out on a “joy ride” that night and stopped at the bus stop to offer the medical student and her companion a ride, police said.
After the attack, the woman and her companion were forced off the vehicle and left in the street. The woman’s companion told police that the bus tried to run her over but that he managed to pull her out of the way.
The police took the victim’s testimony before her death and interviewed about 40 witnesses. They also examined forensic evidence and footage from hidden cameras, which showed images of the bus during the reported hour of the attack.
The horrific assault caused a national uproar. Thousands of young men and women marched through the streets, many of them holding placards demanding the death penalty for the accused.
The rape case will be tried in a new fast-track court that will hold hearings on a daily basis, a rarity in India’s crawling judicial system, in which trials can drag on for decades.
Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, who on Wednesday inaugurated the first of four fast-track courts in New Delhi for cases of violence against women, said the judicial system must move more efficiently to avoid citizen attempts at vigilante justice.
“People’s reaction has been . . . ‘Do not send the accused to trial. Hand them over to us; we will deal with them. Hang them,’ ” Kabir said. “But let us not get carried away.”
Reflecting the enormous public outrage surrounding the rape case, the president of the local bar association told reporters Wednesday that the group had resolved not to offer defense services to any of the accused.
If the court appoints a member of the bar, Raj Kumar Kasana said, the group will consider whether that lawyer should accept the assignment.
In New Delhi on Thursday, a newly formed government task force met for the first time to discuss implementation of measures to enhance the safety of women in public places. The meeting was attended by senior police officers, public transport officials, internal security officials and representatives of the municipal women’s commission.
Sushilkumar Shinde, India’s home minister, told reporters that his ministry had decided to post at least two female officers with the rank of sub-inspector at every police station, a move that he said should encourage women to file complaints without fear.
On Wednesday, the father of the woman who died told the Economic Times newspaper that his family would like the government to name a new anti-rape law after his daughter, as a tribute to her.
“All the six accused should never be allowed to step out of the jail. . . . They must be hanged,” the father told the Economic Times reporter in an interview in his ancestral town in northern India. “They are a threat to every woman on the street.”