Indian police charge attackers in gang-rape case with murder

 Associated  Press.December 29, 2012


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    Dec. 29, 2012: Indian schoolgirls hold placards during a prayer ceremony to  mourn the death of a 23-year-old gang rape victim, at a school in Ahmadabad,  India. (AP)

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    Dec. 29, 2012: A police hearse leaves Mount Elizabeth Hospital in  Singapore. (AP)

 Indian police charged six men  with murder on Saturday, hours after a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a  bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago died in a Singapore hospital.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six face the death penalty  if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater  protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax  attitudes by police toward sexual crimes.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the  attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young  woman’s death will not have been in vain.

The victim “passed away peacefully” early Saturday at Mount Elizabeth  hospital in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her  side, Dr. Kevin Loh, the chief executive of the 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, which specializes 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 woman and a male friend, who have not been identified, were on a bus in  New Delhi after watching a film on the evening of Dec. 16 when they were  attacked by six men who raped her. The men 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.

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 New  Delhi.

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 return her body to India later  Saturday.

The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the  thousands for almost daily demonstrations.

As news of the victim’s death reached New Delhi early 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 Saturday, Bhagat  said.

Police were allowing people to assemble at the Jantar Mantar and Ramlila  grounds, the main areas allotted for protests in New Delhi, he said.

Mourners began gathering at Jantar Mantar to express their grief and demand  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.

They put a wreath studded with white flowers on the road, lit a candle and  sat around it in a silent tribute to the young woman. Members of a theatre group  nearby played small tambourine and sang songs urging the society to wake up and  end discrimination against women.

Dipali, a working woman who uses one name, said the rape victim deserved  justice. “I hope it never happens again to any girl,” she said.

Dozens of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi marched  silently to the bus stop from where the rape victim and her friend had boarded  the bus on Dec. 16. They carried placards reading “She is not with us but her  story must awaken us.”

Nehra Kaul Mehra, a young Indian studying urban and gender policing at  Columbia University in the United States, said “We come from a feudal and  patriarchal set-up where we value men more than women.”

“We kill daughters before they are born. Those who live are fed less,  educated less and segregated from boys,” she said with a black band of protest  around her mouth.

Sonia Gandhi, the governing Congress party chief, assured the protesters in a  statement that the rape victim’s death “deepens our determination to battle the  pervasive, the shameful social attitudes and mindset that allow men to rape and  molest women and girls with such an impunity.”

The protesters heckled Sheila Dikshit, the top elected leader of New Delhi  state, when she came to express her sympathy with them and forced her to leave  the protest venue. They blamed her for the deteriorating law and order situation  in the Indian capital.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the  woman’s death was a sobering reminder of the widespread sexual violence in  India.

“The outrage now should lead to law reform that criminalizes all forms of  sexual assault, strengthens mechanisms for implementation and accountability, so  that the victims are not blamed and humiliated,” Ganguly said.

Prime Minister Singh said he understood the angry reaction to the attack and  that he hoped all Indians would work together to make appropriate changes.

“These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India  that genuinely desires change,” Singh 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.

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, forcing them to keep quiet and  discouraging them from reporting it to authorities for fear of exposing their  families to ridicule. 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 arrested only on 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 Nov. 13 and  reported the attack to police Nov. 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

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