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Gang rape & murder trial starts Monday in Delhi

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A Delhi police van, believed to be carrying the accused in a gang rape of a 23-year-old woman, enters a district court n New Delhi, India, Jan. 21, 2013. AP/Saurabh Das

The trial of the five men accused in the gang rape of a 23-year old woman in Delhi, which sparked nationwide outrage, began on Monday in a fast-track court.

Five of the six accused were brought to the court in a dark blue van from the heavily fortified Tihar jail.

The attack on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, who was raped and brutally beaten before being thrown out of a moving bus, grabbed global headlines.

Prosecutors say a DNA investigation of bloodstained clothes and body swabs has linked all five men and a juvenile to the crime, providing evidence the prosecution claims will be enough to convict them.

Prosecutors say their case will also hinge on cellphone records and on testimony from the dying woman and a male companion who was attacked with her on a moving bus on Dec. 16.

However, the case against the men may not be open and shut in a country where shoddy forensic practices are one of the chief reasons for a low conviction rate in rape trials.

Manohar Lal Sharma, counsel for one of the five accused, Mukesh Singh, filed a petition on Monday to transfer the case to a court in the country’s south to get his client a fair hearing.

The case against the five accused is being tried in a fast track court while the sixth accused is being processed as a juvenile and is likely to be tried separately.

Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India’s major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 per cent between 2007 and 2011.

India’s criminal justice system is widely seen to have failed women who are sexually assaulted. One woman is raped every 20 minutes in India, according to government statistics, but the conviction rate is among the lowest in the world and one of the key reasons is lack of proper investigation.