The young Indian woman who died on Saturday from injuries she suffered in a gang-rape that has prompted national soul-searching was set to marry the man she was with when they were attacked, said friends and relatives.
They were speaking as she was cremated in Delhi after her body was received at the airport by the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Congress Party president.
Her death in a Singapore Hospital in the early hours of yesterday [SAT] morning sparked protests and vigils in several major cities, amid an outpouring of anger and grief by millions across the country demanding greater protection for women from sexual violence.
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 going to authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule. Police often refuse to accept complaints from rape victims, and the rare prosecutions that reach courts can drag on for years.
Security was tight, with no access to the public or media at the crematorium.
The victim, whose identity has been withheld to protect her family, was attacked with her fiancé after they boarded a bus in South Delhi’s upmarket Saket neighbourhood as they returned from a visit to the cinema. She was raped repeatedly by six men, who have now been charged with her murder, as the bus cruised the capital’s streets. Their brutal assaults were hidden from view by the bus’s tinted windows and closed curtains.
The 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist was also beaten with an iron rod which doctors believe caused the internal injuries which led to her death. She endured three operations, including one which removed 95 per cent of her intestines, and suffered a heart attack before she was airlifted to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital last Thursday. Doctors there found she had also suffered brain injuries and showed signs of organ failure as they fought to stabilize her. She eventually succumbed to her injuries early on Saturday.
Her death provoked a day of soul searching throughout India’s media on the treatment of women in the country as sparse details of her life, plans and her family’s hopes for her began to emerge.
Friends and neighbours told AFP the unnamed girl referred to on local TV channels as ‘India’s daughter’ had been preparing to marry in February. "They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi… I really loved this girl. She was the brightest of all,” said close friend Meena Rai.
The Hindustan Times newspaper dedicated its front page to ‘Delhi’s Girl’ with a single piece of prose outlining the few details known about her.
She was the joker of her family who always entertained her two younger brothers and tutored neighbours’ children to boost her family’s income. She was a dedicated student determined to get a well-paid job to help repay her father who had sold his ancestral home to fund her tuition. She was a fan of India’s popular television show Bigg Boss and was looking forward to starting a full time job and buying a new mobile phone, the paper said. She was a typical, hard-working middle class Delhi girl who made the best of what she had.
The decision of the prime minister and Congress party president to receive her body at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport highlighted the extent to which the government has been stung by criticism of its failure to reduce the number of assaults on women.
They have promised fast-track courts to clear the backlog of sexual assault and rape cases in the capital, and an inquiry to review existing laws and boost measures to make women feel safer. Women’s safety campaigners however say both the Congress Party and the main opposition BJP are guilty of fielding candidates charged with rape and sexual harassment of women.
Delhi has been called India’s ‘rape capital’ because it has more than double the number of recorded rapes than Mumbai which has two million more people. Rapes in the capital have increased from 414 in 2010 to 635 this year, but campaigners says only one in 50 rapes are reported to the police. Sexual assaults and harassment in Delhi are often dismissed light-hearted ‘Eve-teasing.’
An editorial in The Hindu newspaper the victim’s “struggle against sexual assault, rape and death shone a harsh light deep into the ugly, rotting interior of our society.” It said demands for the death penalty for rape and capital punishment for the six now accused of her murder would only suit India’s politicians who, it said, want early closure of the issue.
"The past week has shown how the framers and implementers of the law in India are themselves complicit in the very culture of patriarchy that produces, sanctions and makes excuses for violence against women.”