Five men accused of raping and murdering a 23-year-old student aboard a moving bus in India have appeared in court.

The hearing was held in a new fast-track court in New Delhi, which was set up specifically to deal with crimes against women.

The brutality of the 16 December attack has sparked protests about the treatment of women in the country.

The defendants had their faces covered by woollen scarves as they arrived in the court, surrounded by police.

Judge Yogesh Khanna told lawyers to prepare for opening statements to begin Thursday and agreed to a defence motion to hold the trial every day throughout the week.

The judge denied a defence motion to make the proceedings public, ruling that the courtroom must remain closed because of the sensitive nature of the crime.

Defence lawyers are awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court on their motion to move the trial outside New Delhi because of the strong emotions in the city.

Another defence lawyer asked the judge to allow a special bone test on one of his clients to ascertain whether he is a juvenile.

A sixth suspect in the attack claims to be a juvenile and his case is being handled separately.

Police say the victim and a male friend were heading home from an evening film when they boarded a bus, where they were attacked by a group of six men.

The attackers beat the man and raped the woman, causing her massive injuries.

The victims were eventually dumped on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

The attack has brought the little discussed topic of crime against women to the forefront in India.

New Delhi set up five fast-track courts in recent weeks to deal specifically with sexual assault cases.

Women's activist Ranjana Kumari said the courts are an important step for clearing some of the 95,000 rape cases pending in India.

In a small sign of the sluggish pace of justice, only one of the 635 rape cases filed in the capital last year has ended in a conviction so far.

However, others are worried that fast-track courts sacrifice justice for speed, overlooking evidence, limiting the cross-examination of witnesses and racing through hearings.