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Indian gang-rape suspects 'badly beaten by police': lawyer

Police badly beat the six suspects arrested in the gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the lawyer for three of the men says, accusing authorities of tampering with evidence.

NEW DELHI // Police badly beat the six suspects arrested in the gang rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus, the lawyer for three of the men said yesterday, accusing authorities of tampering with evidence.

"They are innocent," Manohar Lal Sharma said of his clients ahead of a court hearing, which ended quickly after it turned out some of the official court paperwork was illegible. He said police have beaten the men and placed other prisoners into the suspects' cells to threaten them with knives, adding, "You can't believe the reality of Indian prisons. My clients have been forced to confess to crimes that they did not commit." He also claimed one of his clients "was tortured for 10 days … He is unable to speak now."

Mr Sharma said that authorities, under pressure to quickly wrap up the case, would convict the suspects no matter what evidence, including forcing them to make incriminating statements. Asked about the allegations, a police spokesman refused to comment on the allegations.

The case was expected to be moved to a fast-track court yesterday, but a district court decided that the charge sheet needed to be examined more closely and adjourned proceedings until Monday.

Five of the six suspects were briefly produced amid heavy police presence in court, their faces mostly masked by scarves. The sixth suspect, who is 17 years old, will be tried separately by a juvenile court.

Mr Sharma, an attorney who frequently fights cases in the Supreme Court, has indicated that his clients would plead not guilty. Five men have been charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and a male friend on a bus after the couple had spent a Saturday night at the movies and boarded the wrong vehicle. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on December 16 and died 13 days later of her injuries. Rape victims are not identified in India, even if they die. Rape trials are closed to the media.

Mr Sharma said in an interview with Bloomberg that the victim's male friend was "wholly responsible for not protecting her".

The woman's friend, who has not been identified, has said on television he tried to defend the woman but was soon beaten unconscious. Authorities say the two were dumped off the bus, naked and bloody. "Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady," Mr Sharma said. "Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect."

"What happened to this woman was so heinous, so horrible," Mr Sharma later said, "the police will manipulate the facts." He also later backed away from his statement about the woman's male friend.

Mr Sharma's is only the latest voice in a stream of commentary from public and spiritual leaders who have hinted that the victim and her modern way of life share the responsibility for the rape.

The case has sparked protests across India by women and men who say India's legal system doesn't do enough to prevent attacks on women. Women have told stories of relentless abuse - from catcalls to bus gropings to rapes - and of a police and judicial system that does little to stop it, often blaming victims' behaviour.

Outside girls' schools and colleges, the Delhi Police have pasted posters urging students to "go straight home" after classes, implying that for women to remain outdoors would invite trouble.

Most prominently, Asaram Bapu, a spiritual leader who addressed a meeting in Rajasthan on Monday, suggested that "guilt is never found on just one side,"

Mr Bapu's comments were strongly criticised by other Hindu spiritual leaders. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, on his official Twitter feed, noted that "such hypotheses lead us nowhere. In fact, no sense or reason prevails when someone is drunk."

Jaggi Vasudev, the head of the Isha Foundation, told The Hindu newspaper that Mr Bapu's remarks were "inane comments by an old man [and] archaic opinions without the necessary sense."

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a New Delhi-based media critic, acknowledged that the media was, "in some ways, trying to talk to people who are known to make such outrageous statements."

"But it is also true that these individuals are regressive and ridiculous in themselves," Mr Thakurta told The National yesterday. "There are plenty of such conservative elements in Indian society who are downright regressive if not fundamentalist. And this rape is such a big issue that they feel compelled to comment on it in their way."

Ssubramanian@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Bloomberg

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