THREE of the men accused of raping and murdering an Indian student have signed up lawyers to represent them in court.

Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old student, died two weeks after being beaten and gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi, then thrown bleeding on to the street.

Protests followed, along with a fierce public debate over police failure to stem violence against women.

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Five men and a teenager have been accused of the December 16 attack, but with public anger simmering, most lawyers in the district where the trial will be held have ruled out representing them.

Two lawyers, V K Anand and Manohar Lal Sharma, offered to defend the five men when they appeared in a New Delhi court for the first time on Monday, despite the condemnation of their legal colleagues.

The lawyers said three of the five had asked to be represented by them.

"I understand the sentiment of the people. But you cannot go by sentiment," Mr Anand said. "The accused have a right to justice just as the victim has."

Legal experts had said a lack of representation for the five could give grounds for appeal if they were found guilty. Convictions in similar cases have been overturned years later.

The five accused men are facing various charges including murder, rape and abduction and prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty.

Mr Anand said he would represent Ram Singh, the driver of the bus on which the rape took place, and had a preliminary meeting with him yesterday to work on a defence plan.

The court must confirm the two lawyers as defenders when it next convenes on January 10.