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Rape victim's family calls for death penalty

The family of a student who died after being brutally gang raped in New Delhi has called for the death penalty ahead of the court verdict on her alleged attackers.

NEW DELHI // The family of a student who died after being brutally gang raped in New Delhi has called for the death penalty ahead of the court verdict on her alleged attackers.

The New Delhi court is expected to deliver its decision tomorrow after concluding a trial against four adults over the assault on a moving bus in December, a crime that shone a global spotlight on the rise of violence against women in India.

The court heard that the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was repeatedly raped by six men and violated with an iron rod after being lured onto the private bus after seeing a movie with a male friend.

The student and her friend were thrown, naked and bleeding, from the bus onto a roadside.

The student, who made statements to police from her hospital bed about her attackers, died two weeks later from internal injuries inflicted during the incident.

A teenager was this month given the maximum punishment of three years in a detention centre after he was found guilty of taking part in the attack, igniting demands for harsher punishments for juvenile offenders.

Bitterly disappointed with that sentence, the victim's father called for the four adults to be pronounced guilty and ultimately hanged, to finally give his family some sense of closure.

"We will not accept anything below the death penalty," the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said from his home in south-western Delhi.

"Anything other than the gallows for these men will not be right. It would send out the wrong message, people will lose trust in our judicial system."

He added: "If all four are sentenced to death, I can't imagine anything being better than that. Nothing could get better ... We will get closure.

"It will bring peace to our minds and to the whole country."

The attack sparked weeks of sometimes violent street protests amid seething public anger about sex crimes against women in India.

It also led to tougher laws for sex offenders, including the death penalty for rapists whose victims die or are left in a vegetative state.

But savage attacks against women are still reported daily in India's newspapers and the gang-rape of a photographer last month near an upmarket area of Mumbai rekindled public disgust.

Women's groups said the death penalty in this case was unlikely to deter future offenders, pointing to the need for increased education about the severity of such crimes as well as respect for women.

"People who commit crimes against women, they are not fearful of the law because they don't know what it is," said Charu Walikhanna, a member of the National Commission for Women.

The presiding judge in the Delhi case, Yogesh Khanna, said last week that he would deliver his verdict after a seven-month trial in a special fast-track court.

Mr Khanna dismissed requests from defence lawyers for more time, but last-minute legal challenges could still delay tomorrow's verdict. The sentence against the juvenile was deferred four times before being handed down.

During the trial, the prosecution laid out evidence against the four accused, including DNA, statements from the male companion - who was beaten during the attack - and the dying victim's testimony.

"What is so significant about this case is the extreme brutality of the injury, the extreme torture. The nature of the injury is such it is clear that they intended to murder their victims," special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the court during final arguments.

The four men - Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma - have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include murder, rape and theft.

A fifth adult, the alleged ringleader Ram Singh, was found dead in his jail cell in March in an apparent suicide.

The men, ranging in age from 19 to 35, mostly live in one of Delhi's many slums.