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Mother Of India Gang-Rape Victim Faces Suspects In Court

In India, the mother of the 23-year-old woman fatally gang-raped on a moving bus last December appeared in court Friday and for the first time put eyes on the men accused in the heinous attack on her daughter.

The four men on trial have been charged with murder and face capital punishment for the crime that convulsed the country and prompted harsher punishments for rape.

Three of the defendants sat in a back row of the small Delhi courtroom of Judge Yogesh Khanna, while the victim's mother sat in the front, with her husband and son seated behind her. "I saw them face to face," she said.

Following her brief testimony, she broke down and pleaded with the court, "Please bring justice for my daughter."

The international media is barred from entering the courtroom, but Indian journalists allowed inside described the woman's frantic, unanswered calls to her daughter on the night of the savage attack.

VK Anand, one of the defense attorneys, hurried from the courtroom to announce that it would be too cruel to cross-examine her. Anand has displayed a flare for the dramatic since the start of a trial that has seen its share of unexpected turns.

Ram Singh, the lead suspect in the case, was found hanging in his jail cell on the morning of March 11. The state maintains that he committed suicide, while his lawyer alleges Singh was murdered. The report into his death has yet to be submitted in court.

A second suspect, Vinay Sharma, has been hospitalized since May 3 and therefore absent from the court hearings. His attorney, AP Singh, believes Sharma has been slowly poisoned at the Tihar jail where he and the other three adult defendants are being held. (A fifth defendant, a juvenile, is being held in a separate facility). Jail officials scoffed at the idea.

It's not the first time in the trial that Sharma has had a setback. In March, the 20-year-old gym assistant announced he planned on taking entrance exams for the Indian Air Force. A day before he was to write the exam, his hand was broken. He and his attorney said other inmates had "tortured" him. Jail authorities said he got into a fight with fellow prisoners.

Sharma's condition recently has turned more serious. A spiking fever and chest pains got him admitted to the infirmary at the Tihar jail. From there, he was referred to a second and then a third government hospital and given a battery of tests. This week, his lawyer said he was in "critical condition," vomiting blood.

In a report to the court, the medical officer at the Tihar jail cited "fever of unknown origin" and a reduced platelet count.

But documents containing medical records marked "confidential" and submitted to the court Friday stated Sharma had no fever and declared a bone marrow biopsy "uneventful." Singh, Sharma's attorney, accused doctors of downplaying the seriousness of his client's condition.

Lawyers for the accused have alleged their clients have been "tortured" since the beginning of the trial, a charge the authorities have consistently denied.

The mysterious illness of one of the suspects gives defense attorneys more grist for the mill.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.
Anoo Bhuyan
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