New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) A fortnight after a young woman's savage gang-rape singed the collective conscience of the nation and plunged it into unprecedented anguish and anger, her battered body was cremated quietly here early Sunday morning hours after it was flown in from Singapore.
The trainee physiotherapist's battle to live and fight her perpetrators moved the nation and galvanised tens of thousands of youths all over the country to continue to demand from the government greater assurance of security and deterrent punishment to those who commit gender crimes.
A special plane brought her body from Singapore to Delhi airport at 3.30 a.m.
In a rare gesture, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi went to the airport late wintry night to receive the body of the 23-year-old who was brutally assaulted and gang-raped by six men Dec 16 night in a moving bus in the national capital.
According to sources, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi spoke to the family members of the young woman and consoled them.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and union Minister of State for Home Affairs R.P.N. Singh were present at the crematorium in southwest Delhi early morning.
The cremation was held at 7.25 a.m. away from public glare just after sunrise with only family members, close neighbours and a handful of government officials present. A dense fog added to the gloominess of the last rites. Plans for the cremation were kept a secret till the very end.
"I was there as a representative of the government," Singh told IANS. He said the funeral was held in secrecy "as we wanted to respect the privacy of the family".
Singh said the body was brought to the cremation ground at 6.26 a.m. after which the rites were performed, including bathing the body and dressing it in a new attire.
The distraught mother of the dead woman fainted several times and had to be admitted to Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital,
"As soon as the body was taken away for cremation, she collapsed," a neighbour, Vimla, told IANS. Her condition was reported to be stable.
Since Saturday evening, a large number of people, mostly neighbours, had been assembling outside their house in southwest Delhi's Mahavir Enclave, a middle class area, to commiserate with the family on the woman's death.
The woman's young male friend, who was also attacked by the six rapists on the bus, did not attend the cremation. The 28-year-old man and his family left Saturday night for Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, a police source told IANS.
According to government sources, Dikshit consoled the family and offered a small prayer for the woman.
The flames of the pyre may have died, but public anger continued with hundreds of protestors gathering at Jantar Mantar, the heart of the Indian capital. The peaceful protest turned a little restive in the afternoon when a group of students clashed with policemen.
While many raised slogans for tougher laws to deal with rapists, some organised a 'havan' - a prayer by fire ceremony - for the departed soul.
"We want speedy justice in the gang-rape case. We want strict laws, until then we will continue our protest," Deepali Sharma, a student from Amity University at Gurgaon who came to the protest along with friends, told IANS.
Candle-light vigils to pay homage to the woman, who fought grimly for survival for 13 days, were held in various residential colonies across Delhi as well as in other cities.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the "hush-hush manner" in which the cremation was held and also demanded a special session of parliament to discuss the issue of rising crimes against women.
Delhi has the unflattering sobriquet of "rape capital" with over 600 rapes recorded this year alone, according to police figures.
Police imposed restrictive orders around India Gate and Raisina Hill - the capital's power centre - and blockaded all roads leading to the areas, as well as shut down ten Metro stations in central Delhi. Five stations were opened later in the afternoon.
India Gate and its adjacent areas in the capital were out of bounds for public.
The restrictions hindered users of cars and other vehicles who wanted to commute to the heart of the capital, but police were unyielding as they wanted to prevent last Sunday's violent street protests that led to the death of a policeman.
The gang-raped trainee physiotherapist was flown to Singapore for specialized treatment after her condition deteriorated following the grievous injuries to her during her 40-minute ordeal. She died early Saturday.