Demonstrators vent their anger during a protest in Kolkata
in support of a woman who died following a gang rape in New
Delhi. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
A woman whose gang rape provoked protests and rare
national debate about violence against women in India died from
her injuries on Saturday, prompting promises of action from a
government that has struggled to respond to public outrage.
The unidentified 23-year-old medical student suffered a brain
injury and massive internal damage in the attack on December
16 and died in hospital in Singapore where she had been taken
Protesters rallied peacefully in the capital New Delhi and
other cities across India to keep the pressure on Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh's government to get tougher on crimes
against women. That was in contrast to the pitched battles
protesters fought with police last weekend.
The six suspects held in connection with the attack on the
student on a New Delhi bus were charged with murder following
her death, police said. The maximum penalty for murder is
Authorities, worried about the reaction to the news of her
death, deployed thousands of policemen, closed 10 metro
stations and banned vehicles from some main roads in the
heart of New Delhi, where demonstrators have converged since
the attack to demand improved women's rights.
Despite efforts to cordon off the city centre, more than
1,000 people gathered at two locations. Some protesters
shouted for justice, others for the death penalty for the
Most sex crimes in India go unreported, many offenders go
unpunished, and the wheels of justice turn slowly, according
to social activists who say that successive governments have
done little to ensure the safety of women.
Political leaders vowed steps to correct "shameful social
attitudes" towards women in the world's biggest democracy.
"The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry
into the critical changes that are required in societal
attitudes," the prime minister said in a statement.
"I hope that the entire political class and civil society
will set aside narrow sectional interests and agenda to help
us all reach the end that we all desire - making India a
demonstrably better and safer place for women to live in."
The woman, beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus, had
been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian
government on Thursday.
She and her male friend were returning home from the cinema,
media reports say, when six men on the bus beat them with
metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. Media said a rod
was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. The friend
"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," Kelvin Loh, chief executive officer of
the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore said in a statement
announcing her death from multiple organ failure.
The Indian government has chartered an aircraft to fly her
body back to India, along with family members, T.C.A.
Raghavan, the Indian high commissioner to Singapore, told
The body was taken from the hospital to a Hindu undertaker in
Singapore and hours later, lying in a gold and yellow coffin
selected by Indian diploamts, the body was driven in a hearse
to the airport.
The plane took off from Singapore at 1630 GMT and was
expected to reach New Delhi around 3 a.m. local time on
Sunday (2130 GMT Saturday), the NDTV channel reported on its
website citing the High Commissioner.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the northern
Indian city of Lucknow. In Hyderabad, in southern India, a
group of women marched to demand severe punishment for the
rapists. Protests were also held in the cities of Chennai,
Kolkata and Mumbai.
"For some reason, and I don't really know why, she got
through to us," well-known columnist Nilanjana Roy wrote in a
blog on Saturday.
"Our words shrivelled in the face of what she'd been
subjected to by the six men travelling on that bus, who spent
an hour torturing and raping her, savagely beating up her
Sonia Gandhi, the powerful leader of the ruling Congress
party, directly addressed the protesters in a rare broadcast
on state television, saying that as a mother and a woman she
understood their grievances.
"Your voice has been heard," Gandhi said. "It deepens our
determination to battle the pervasive and the shameful social
attitudes that allow men to rape and molest women with such
The attack has put gender issues centre stage in Indian
politics. Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and
female infanticide have rarely entered mainstream political
Analysts say the death of the woman dubbed "Amanat", an Urdu
word meaning "treasure," by some Indian media could change
that, although it is too early to say whether the protesters
calling for government action to better safeguard women can
sustain their momentum through to national elections due in
The outcry over the attack caught the government off-guard
and it was slow to react. It took a week for Singh to make a
statement on the attack, infuriating many protesters who saw
it as a sign of a government insensitive to the plight of
The prime minister, an 80-year-old technocrat who speaks in a
low monotone, has struggled to channel the popular outrage in
his public statements and convince critics that his
eight-year-old government will take steps to improve the
safety of women.
"The Congress managers were ham-handed in their handling of
the situation that arose after the brutal assault on the
girl. The crowd management was poor," a lawmaker from Singh's
ruling Congress party said on condition of anonymity.
Commentators and sociologists say the rape has tapped into a
deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see
as weak governance and poor leadership on social issues.
A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found
that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high
rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.
New 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
percent between 2007 and 2011.