Speaking to the Economic Times, Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said police will seek the death penalty for five of the six accused who were arrested following the Dec. 16 rape and mangling of the 23-year-old woman in a moving privately operated New Delhi bus. The sixth accused is believed to be a minor.
The victim, who suffered multiple grievous injuries in the incident, died last Saturday at a hospital in Singapore. She had been sent there by special air ambulance for specialized care, but her body gave out prior to that, ending her prolonged battle for life. The woman, who has two brothers, was the only daughter of her parents of modest income and had been studying to become a physiotherapist. She was cremated Sunday in New Delhi.
The woman had earlier given a declaration to police that led to the arrest of the accused and will now be used as her dying declaration, the report said.
Her suffering and struggle horrified an entire nation and the rest of the world. Tens of thousands of stunned and deeply grieving people across India have been holding demonstrations, demanding improved security for women in a country where rapes and other crimes against women and even young girls have risen sharply.
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already taken several steps to improve security and is considering several more steps in this direction.
"To convict someone or not is up to the courts, but the police will press for death penalty for this heinous crime," Shinde told the Economic Times.
"We have a solid case with very good evidence. ... A magistrate has recorded the victim's dying declaration and we have a prime witness, the girl's friend, who has identified the rapists."
Police in Delhi are expected to submit a charge sheet Thursday to facilitate the start of a trial, the report said. That will be followed by a supplementary charge sheet containing forensic evidence.
The report said the sixth accused has claimed to be juvenile, which would prevent his being tried similarly as the others, although police have said he was the most brutal among the attackers.
R.P.N. Singh, minister of state in Shinde's ministry, however, has said authorities had not yet ascertained his juvenile status, the report said.
The government, concerned about not letting the case languish because of judicial delays as in some of the other similar rape cases, wants to end the process quickly, including the punishment for the accused. The accused include a bus driver, the driver's brother, a vegetable vendor and a gym instructor, all from a slum area from near the bus stop from where the victim and her male companion were offered a ride in the bus, which had tinted windows, police said.
While the bus was being driven around, both the woman and male companion were severely beaten with an iron rod and later each of the accused took turns raping the woman while inflicting more beatings in her abdomen area, police said. After about an hour, the two victims were stripped and thrown out of the bus during a bitterly cold night even as the woman was bleeding badly. Her male companion is recovering from his injuries.
The Economic Times said police have lined up about 30 witnesses in the case.
In his condolence message on the death of the victim, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "this brutal crime," his spokesman said.
"Violence against women must never be accepted, never excused, never tolerated. Every girl and woman has the right to be respected, valued and protected," Ban said in a statement.
He also urged the Indian government to strengthen critical services for rape victims.
Separately, the Press Trust of India news agency, quoting sources, said Singh's ruling Congress Party plans to propose tougher laws relating to crimes against women that may include chemical castration of rapists. Other provisions may include imprisonment of up to 30 years for rape convicts and the setting up of fast-track courts to decide cases within three months.
In other developments, India's leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi as well as the armed forces, canceled their New Year celebrations in memory of the gang rape victim, Times Now television channel reported.