The court proceedings of five of the six suspects in a brutal gang rape in the Indian capital will be closed to the public.
The magistrate hearing the case, Namrita Aggarwal, made the announcement Monday shortly after the suspects arrived for a court hearing in New Delhi. She said the next hearing will be on January 10 but did not indicate when the case will go to trial in a fast-track court.
Aggarwal also cleared the packed courtroom after noisy protests from lawyers objecting to the suspects being given defense counsel and a mob of local and foreign journalists jostling to hear the proceedings.
Six suspects, including a teenager, are accused of attacking a 23-year old woman and her male friend after luring them onto a bus in New Delhi on December 16. They were both beaten with a rod. The woman was gang-raped and both victims were thrown from the bus.
The unidentified woman died on December 29 in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment.
Indian authorities have charged the men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges. Officials say they will push for the death penalty, if the men are convicted.
Two of the accused, in an effort to receive lighter sentences, have told the court that they want to become witnesses for the prosecution.
A sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.
India's chief justice last week established a fast-track court in the capital to try the men accused of the brutal gang rape. It is one of five such courts being established in New Delhi, known by some as the “rape capital” of India.
On Monday, Chief Justice Altamas Kabir asked courts in all Indian states to also set-up fast track courts to hear sexual assault and other crimes against women. It's an effort to bypass India's overwhelmed court system, where cases can often take many years to be resolved.
The woman's rape and death have sparked outrage across the country. Protesters have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the ways India treats women.
Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly says beyond amendments to existing laws, a systemic change in Indian society's attitude towards women is also crucial. She told VOA that steps should be taken to sensitize people, including “groups that condemn women for lifestyle choices.”
Ganguly notes, “there have been attacks on women that have been to the pubs, there have been comments from political leaders who have talked about the kind of clothes that women choose to wear, the hours they keep, or if they like to choose their own life partners or go out or have boyfriends — that sort of comment on women has to stop.”