A woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi has died at a Singapore hospital, after her ordeal galvanised Indians to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence.
The six men arrested over the violent attack in the back of the bus in New Delhi on the young woman and her male companion, may be charged with murder, according to Indian news reports.
Indian police officials say murder charges will be added to the kidnap, gang rape, robbery, unnatural offences and destruction of evidence charges the men already face. All of the accused had been originally charged with attempted murder.
News of more legal sanctions against those accused of the shocking crime came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm while also vowing to do more to protect women against violent assaults.
Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar requested people maintain calm across the city, according to a statement from his office which also announced that the area around the India Gate monument and 10 metro stations would be closed to the public
Prime Minister Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred. “I want to tell them (her family) and the nation that while she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain,” he said.
Authorities in India have been preparing for the possibility her death could ignite more protests after riot police were deployed on the capital’s streets in the wake of the attack amid simmering anger at the daily dangers women face.
“These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change,” Prime Minister Singh said. “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.”
India’s high commissioner to Singapore T.C.A Raghavan speaks to journalists at the Mount Elizabeth hospital after the announcement of the death of the Indian gang-rape victim in Singapore. Picture: AFP/Roslan Rahman
He said the government was examining the penalties for crimes such as rape “to enhance the safety and security of women.”
“The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes,” he said.
“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.”
Indian television news channels carried blanket coverage from Singapore after news of the death broke.
The Indian gang-rape victim has died at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Picture: AFP/Roslan Rahman
The NDTV network ran a ticker-tape headline “RIP India’s Daughter” while the Times Now channel headlined the news “Braveheart Passes Away”.
Several Indian celebrities reacted with sadness Saturday over the woman’s death. Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan tweeted, “Her body has passed away, but her soul shall forever stir our hearts.”
Earlier, a statement released by Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth hospital where the 23-year-old victim was being treated said she “died peacefully” early this morning with her family by her side.
She had remained in an extremely critical condition since being admitted to the hospital, chief executive Kelvin Loh said, with doctors mounting a last-ditch battle overnight to save her life.
An Indian woman protests against the brutal gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi.
“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,” Dr Loh said. “We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to care for her in her final struggle.”
Although the identity of the young woman has not yet been released, reports have said she was a medical student who hailed from a rural area of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state which borders the capital New Delhi.
Her parents, who had travelled to Singapore after she was flown out by air ambulance on Wednesday night, are said to have sold their small piece of land in order to fund their daughter’s education, often limiting their own meals to little more than rotis with namak (bread with salt), according to NDTV.
India’s High Commissioner to Singapore T.C.A. Raghavan said the woman’s family was “shattered” by her death.
Indian demonstrators shout slogans and wave placards as they move towards India Gate in New Delhi on Thursday during a protest calling for better safety for women following the rape of a student in the Indian capital.
“The scale of her injuries (was) very great,” Raghavan told reporters at the hospital.
“It was was very trying for the family. The girl of course was unconscious… I must say they (the family) bore the entire process with a great deal of fortitude and a great deal of courage.”
The body was taken to a morgue, and Raghavan said arrangements were being made for it to be returned to India in line with the family’s wishes. It is expected to be flown back to India later today.
The horrific ordeal of the woman has galvanised Indians, who have held almost daily demonstrations to demand greater protection from sexual violence, from groping to rape, that affects thousands of women every day, but which often goes unreported.
Indian police officials stand behind a barrier as demonstrators move towards India Gate in New Delhi on Thursday.
The young woman and a male friend were travelling in a public bus on December 16 evening when they were attacked by a group of six men who raped her and beat them both.
Indian police have arrested six people in connection with the attack, which 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.
The woman had been treated in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital since she was thrown off a bus in the horrific attack.
She also suffered severe intestinal injuries as a result of being assaulted with an iron bar, according to police and prosecutors.
The decision to fly her in a special air ambulance was taken at a meeting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet on Wednesday, the government having promised to pay all her medical bills.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government’s only concern was to ensure the victim received “the best treatment possible”.
“The doctors of Safdarjung Hospital and those from Trauma centre, they were called and consulted,” he told reporters.
However newspapers have suggested that authorities who have struggled to contain nationwide protests over the attack were keen to have her transferred out of the country.
An unnamed doctor who was part of a team of experts consulted about the transfer told The Hindu newspaper that they had only been asked whether it was safe to move her rather than if it was the best course of action.
“The question was not whether there were any deficiencies in treatment that would be met by moving her… She was being given the best possible care.”
Samiran Nundy, chairman of the organ transplant and gastro-surgery department of Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, told the paper the transfer made little sense.
“I just can’t understand why a critically ill patient with infection in blood and body, high grade fever and on the ventilator is being transferred,” he said.
“It will take weeks in this case to even look into the possibility of an intestinal transplant so why hurry and take the patient out from a facility which works so well. It seems more of a political move.”
Mr Singh has ordered an official inquiry into the gang-rape and promised new laws to protect women as well as stiffer penalties for the worst sex crimes.
The government has announced plans to post the photos, names and addresses of convicted rapists on official websites to publicly shame them. The campaign will begin in Delhi, which has been dubbed India’s “rape capital”.
Mr Shinde also said that Delhi police would soon launch a drive to recruit more female officers as a confidence-building measure.
“Every police station should have women police personnel,” the minister said.
“I have suggested that each of the 166 police stations in Delhi should have at least one woman officer. We don’t have enough to meet that target yet, but I told them that as many as possible should be deployed until we recruit more women.”
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.
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.
Police said yeste that a 15-year-old schoolgirl had had her throat slit after being gang-raped in the Pali Muqimpure area of Uttar Pradesh state.
A hunt has been launched for three youths after the attack, said a report by the Press Trust of India news agency.