India‘s home minister has admitted a “serious security lapse” after the man accused of leading five others in the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi in December was found dead on Monday morning in the high security prison where he was being held during his trial.
Sushilkumar Shinde, the minister of home affairs, promised an inquiry after the apparent suicide of Ram Singh, who was found hanged by his own clothes and a prison blanket at 5am, officials at Delhi’s Tihar jail said.
Singh, 34, was on trial with five others at a specially established fast track court in Delhi and faced the death sentence for his part in the gang rape and murder, which took place on the bus he drove for a living.
The Indian government has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of the case and its aftermath. The trial opened last month but has recently suffered delays. Reporting of proceedings has been banned by authorities.
Kiran Bedi, a former director of the jail and now an activist, told Associated Press prison officials had a moral and legal obligation to ensure Singh’s safety, and she expressed surprise that authorities had not been monitoring him with cameras. “You are duty bound to protect the lives of the prisoners,” she said.
The attack in the Indian capital on the physiotherapist in December prompted global outrage, protests across India and calls for deep legal and policing reforms. It also led to a fierce debate over attitudes to women as a factor contributing to the wave of sexual violence to women which has hit the country in recent years.
One of the key demands of protesters who took to the streets in their thousands following the attack were that those responsible be publicly hanged. Relatives of the victims said they were disappointed yesterday that Singh, a bus driver with a history of hard drinking, had been allowed to take his own life.
“He knew he was going to die anyway because we had and still have such a strong case against him,” the physiotherapist’s 20-year-old brother told Reuters news agency. “I’m not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged … publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence.”
On the night of the attack, the victim and her 28-year-old male friend had boarded Singh’s bus on a Sunday evening as they returned from seeing a film. They believed the bus was one of the many unlicensed carriers which fill the gaps left by Delhi’s inadequate public transport system. The pair were, however, attacked with an iron rod and the woman repeatedly raped. After almost an hour, they were pushed from the moving bus onto a roadside near the city’s airport.
The accused adults in the case – along with a 17-year-old – were swiftly detained for their alleged roles in the attack, which took place on 16 December. The minor is appearing in a separate court.
Singh’s lawyer said his client had been murdered in prison, possibly by the police. “What do you mean, killed himself? He has been killed in prison,” defence counsel AP Singh said.
Lawyers for the accused men have claimed that their clients have been repeatedly attacked by other inmates and were “tortured” by police.
Singh’s father also cast doubt on the official version of events. “He confessed about his mistake, then why would he commit suicide? He was prepared for any punishment the government would have given him,” Mange Lal Singh said. “He was first murdered and then his clothes were torn off to hang his corpse in his cell,” he said.
Investigators say that with 80 witnesses, DNA evidence and witness statements from both victims they have a strong case against the five men standing trial. Singh’s younger brother, Mukesh, is among the accused. The pair had been living in a slum neighbourhood in the south of Delhi at the time of the attack. They had been joined by two local men – a fruit seller and a part-time gym assistant, a former colleague and the juvenile, an illiterate drifter – on a “joy ride” after hours of heavy drinking on the evening of the assault. They had come across the woman and her friend by chance, statements from two of the accused claim.
Apparent suicide of Delhi rape accused a ‘serious security lapse’ – The Guardian
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