Singapore: An Indian woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi died Saturday at a Singapore hospital, after her ordeal galvanised Indians to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence that impacts thousands of them every day.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred and that it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.
Rapists to face murder charge
The six males whose gang-raped and tortured the woman will now charged with murder, police sources said.
Delhi Police had charged the six accused, including a suspected juvenile, with rape. They later added the charge of attempt to murder.
This will now be converted into murder charge under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, a police source told IANS.
All six are presently in Delhi's Tihar Central Jail. Police have said they were conducting tests to determine the age of one of the accused who claims he was not an adult.
The woman and a male friend, who have not been identified, were traveling on a bus in New Delhi after watching a film on the evening of December 16 when they were attacked by six men who raped her.
The men also beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into the woman's body, resulting in severe organ damage. Both were then stripped and thrown off the bus, according to police.
The bus passed through several key roads, even past Police Control Room vans. But since the bus windows were tinted and had their curtains drawn, no one could spot what was going on inside.
The two were discovered shivering and bleeding by a patrol of the National Highway Authority of India who alerted the police.
Victim 'courageous in fighting for her life'
The victim "passed away peacefully" with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side, Dr. Kevin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth hospital, said in a statement.
After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital, the woman was brought Thursday to Mount Elizabeth hospital, which specialises in multi-organ transplants.
Loh said the woman had been in extremely critical condition since Thursday, and by late Friday her condition had taken a turn for the worse, with her vital signs deteriorating.
"Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth Hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days," Loh said. "She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome."
The attack left the victim with severe internal injuries, a lung infection and brain damage. She also suffered from a heart attack while in the hospital in India.
Indian High Commissioner, or ambassador, T.C.A. Raghavan told reporters that the scale of the injuries the woman suffered was "very grave" and in the end "proved too much."
He said arrangements were being made to take her body back to India later on Saturday.
The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.
Rape victim was a true hero: President
President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday condoled the death in Singapore of the young woman who was gang-raped here and called her a "true hero". He asked the government to "ensure that such an incident never happens again."
"I am deeply distressed by the unfortunate demise of the 23-year-old girl who passed away early this morning in Singapore," Mukherjee said.
High-security area sealed off
As news of the victim's death reached New Delhi early on Saturday, hundreds of policemen sealed off the high-security India Gate area, where the seat of India's government is located, in anticipation of more protests.
The area is home to the president's palace, the prime minister's office and key defense, external affairs and home ministries.
The area had seen battles between protesters and police for days after the attack.
Ten metro stations in the vicinity also were closed on Saturday, said Rajan Bhagat, the New Delhi police spokesman.
Police were allowing people to assemble at the Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds, the main areas allotted for protests in New Delhi, Bhagat said.
The protesters are demanding stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Women face daily harassment across India, ranging from catcalls on the streets, groping and touching in public transport to rape.
Singh said he understands the angry reaction to the attack and hopes all Indians will work together to make appropriate changes.
"These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change," the prime minister said in a statement Saturday. "It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channel these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action."
He said the government was examining the penalties for crimes such as rape "to enhance the safety and security of women."
"I hope that the entire political class and civil society will set aside narrow sectional interests and agendas to help us all reach the end that we all desire - making India a demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in," Singh said.
Family hopes death will make India safer
The distraught family of the gang-rape victim hopes her death will contribute to making India a safer place for woman, an Indian diplomat said on Saturday.
Indian High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan said the family was "deeply affected" by the death of the woman who was brutally raped and tortured in a moving bus in Delhi Dec 16 and left to die by a roadside.
But the family was also moved by a large number of messages of support they had received from everywhere, Raghavan told the media.
"They hope that the death of their child will lead to a better future for women in Delhi and India," he quoted them as saying.
Rape laws will be made more stringent: Shinde
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Saturday mourned the death of the gang-rape victim and promised to enact "more stringent laws" to prevent such crime.
"Her death will not go in vain," the minister said in a message. "There will be maximum punishment for the accused. This incident is a lesson (for all us)."
He said that rape laws in the country would be made more stringent in order to prevent such incidents.
Singapore condoles gang-rape victim's death
The Singapore government extended its "deepest condolences" to the family of the young woman who died.
Singapore's foreign ministry spokesman said: "We are saddened to learn that she has succumbed to her injuries, and would like to extend our deepest condolences to her family during this time of bereavement."
Change mindset to end crimes: Sharma
Mamta Sharma, head of the state-run National Commission for Women, said the "time has come for strict laws" to stop violence against women. "The society has to change its mindset to end crimes against women," she said.
The tragedy has forced India to confront the reality that sexually assaulted women are often blamed for the crime, which forces them to keep quiet and not report it to authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule. Also, police often refuse to accept complaints from those who are courageous enough to report the rapes, and the rare prosecutions that reach courts drag on for years.
Indian attitudes toward rape are so entrenched that even politicians and opinion makers have often suggested that women should not go out at night or wear clothes that might be seen provocative.
On Friday, Abhijit Mukherjee, a national lawmaker and the son of India's president, apologized for calling the protesters "highly dented and painted" women who go from discos to demonstrations.
"I tender my unconditional apology to all the people whose sentiments got hurt," he told NDTV news.
Several Indian celebrities reacted with sadness Saturday over the woman's death. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan tweeted, "Her body has passed away, but her soul shall forever stir our hearts."
Separately, authorities in Punjab state took action Thursday when an 18-year-old woman killed herself by drinking poison a month after she told police she was gang-raped.
State authorities suspended one police officer and fired two others on accusations they delayed investigating and taking action in the case. The three accused in the rape were only arrested Thursday night, a month after the crime was reported.
"This is a very sensitive crime, I have taken it very seriously," said Paramjit Singh Gill, a top police officer in the city of Patiala.
The Press Trust of India reported that the woman was raped November 13 and reported the attack to police November 27. But police harassed the girl, asked her embarrassing questions and took no action against the accused, PTI reported, citing police sources.
Authorities in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh also suspended a police officer on accusations he refused to register a rape complaint from a woman who said she had been attacked by a driver.