The Indian gang rape victim whose assault in New Delhi triggered nationwide protests died of her injuries on Saturday in a Singapore hospital, potentially threatening fresh protests in India where her case is a rallying point for women’s rights.
The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan reports on the latest from New Delhi.
Sedated to prevent the pain from being felt by her damaged brain and tortured innards, a ventilator machine performing the work for her lungs, surrounded by her parents, two brothers and senior staff of the Indian High Commission, the 23-year-old, who cannot be named, died at 4.45am Singapore time on Saturday without opening her eyes on the island described by a former Indian Prime Minister as “nothing short of a miracle”.
Nobody knows what made her get into that bus on the night of Dec 16. Maybe, in a massive city like New Delhi, where public transport is thin and trains and buses overcrowded, it was a relief to see a near-empty vehicle where a sly hand may not have squeezed her buttocks or an elbow deliberately brush against her breast.
The tragedy of that decision is being felt not just in India, but in Singapore and around the world.
At the Indian High Commission on Grange Road, walking distance to the hospital, lines of people began to form as the news spread, some just to huddle for silent comfort, others to sign a condolence book that had not yet been opened.
The dead woman flew home on Saturday afternoon in the comfort that her father, a lowly cargo hand in New Delhi airport, could never have afforded – a chartered flight that flew from India to fetch her back.
As happens too often in India, the official machinery that proved so woefully inadequate to protect her life was in abundance after her trauma and death. Thanks to the power of India’s media, the passing has become a cathartic event, a bigger news event than the death last month in Mumbai of the firebrand Hindu nationalist Bal Thakeray.
In the Delhi hospital where she was initially treated, the queues to see even the junior-most doctor can be long. The Indian government, under pressure of public opinion , deployed the best specialists to treat her. When that wasn’t enough, she was flown to Singapore with a blank cheque to the hospital, rooms at the Mandarin Orchard for her family and the force of Indian diplomacy at her service.
The Indian government is under fire from some doctors for its decision to send the battered girl here. Going by the torrent of questions on the issue faced by Indian High Commissioner TCA Raghavan yesterday, the sub-text is that New Delhi somehow passed the responsibility to Singapore.
That may be a trifle unfair to Dr Manmohan Singh, himself the father of three girls.
Six years ago, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber made her way into Sri Lankan army headquarters and detonated herself, killing 11 and critically wounding then-army chief Sarath Fonseka. Gen Fonseka was evacuated to Singapore where surgeons succeeded in patching him together and sent him home in a few months. Other desperate cases, from Myanmar generals to Bangladeshi leaders, have been flown here for treatment.
In the Indian woman’s instance, she was simply too far gone for medical science to revive her.
Would her death go in vain?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for the emotions unleashed by her passing to be channelled into “a constructive course of action.” That is easier said than done.
India’s national capital recorded 635 rapes this year alone – a rape every 14 hours – and that is just the number that are reported.
In a culture fixated on the male child – May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons is the title of Elisabeth Bumiller’s classic on the life of Indian women – when a third of Indian legislators have faced criminal charges, when aggressive behaviour towards women doesn’t fetch in New Delhi the same outrage as it would, in say, Kolkata, reining in the predatory instincts of the northern Indian male will not be easy.
But the death of the young woman has changed the nature of the case from rape to culpable homicide, perhaps even murder. While upper courts will likely not allow the death penalty, which is only granted in “rarest of the rare” cases, prosecutors may well succeed in locking away for life the six men behind the crime.
In India, though, lifers tend to be eligible for parole after 14 years although, in recent cases, judges have imposed a minimum 30 years in rape-murder cases.
But, until the Delhi male turns indignant at the sight of a fellow man molesting a woman, and acts to stop him, the problem will not go away.
No police force in the world has the manpower to post marshals on every bus and train in the city.