India grieves as rape victim's body returns

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 29, 2012 20:31 hrs

New Delhi/Singapore: India united in grieving the 23-year-old victim of a brutal gang-rape on Saturday, as her body began a five-hour-flight from Singapore where she finally succumbed after a 13-day-long fight with destiny.  The media has been asked by the BEA to not cover the funeral, in respect for the family's privacy.

Signs of outpouring sorrow and anguish were visible across the nation as people came out on streets and gathered in public places to pay their respects to woman and register protest against the worsening epidemic of crimes against women.

Thousands of candles cast a sombre glow at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Saturday evening, a scene that was mirrored in many cities and towns of India, as the country mourned the death of the woman who has been christened "Amanat", "Damini" and "Nirbhaya".

At 12:30 AM local time (10:00 PM IST) an Air India aircraft AIC-380A ferrying the body of the woman took off from Singapore, Indian High Commission officials said.

The flight is expected to arrive in New Delhi at 3 am on Sunday, media reports said.

In New Delhi, the top brass of the ruling Congress, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chief Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde met on Saturday evening at the PM's residence.

India had woke up on Saturday up to the tragic news of the death of the medical student in a Singapore hospital, finally losing a 13-day-long battle for life after being raped and brutalised by six men on a moving bus in Delhi on Dec 16.

Her death left the nation in a state of mourning and churning as the collective anger of people found new expressions in clamour for change and justice.

The Delhi woman, whose ordeal triggered nationwide protests, died in the hospital in the Singapore early on Saturday (Indian time 2-15 am) after her vital organs failed.

In India, people started pouring out on the streets with the national capital, which has been turned into a fortress by the authorities fearing violence, teeming with young and old, men and women, mourning and protesting and demanding change in law and its implementation.

People in large number and students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) gathered even at Munirka in South Delhi from where the woman had boarded the bus along with her male friend and then experienced a horrific gangrape and brutalization by six men who then threw her off the bus to die.

Protesters and angry mourners at Jantar Mantar maintaining absolute peace sang revolutionary songs and clapped hands to pay their tribute to the woman.

Protests continued at Jantar Mantar where people gathering since early morning to express their grief and demand the strongest penalties for crimes against women.

A wreath studded with white flowers was put on the ground against an empty photo frame symbolising the victim.

Demonstrations continued throughout the day, as people shouted slogans, waved banners and posters and even prayed in silence.

As evening fell, people lit candles and sat around the makeshift memorial in a silent tribute to the young student.

College students from universities around Delhi organised much of the demonstrations.

Students nearby performed street plays and sang songs urging the society to wake up and end discrimination against women.

Scenes of protest and marches were mirrored in many parts of India as people took to streets and public places to pay their homage, express grief and register their anguish.

Candlelight vigils were also held in Mumbai, where Bollywood actors joined in. People in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata also took to the streets.

Many of the protesters called for the boycott of celebrations on January 26, India's Republic Day, saying that crimes such as these cast doubts about the state of civility in the country.

Meanwhile, as clamour for justice and reforms grew louder over the death, authorities in New Delhi clamped down restrictions in the national capital closing metro stations and barring protesters and mourners from moving close to India Gate and other high security areas.

India Gate was cordoned off while there was heavy security presence on Raisina Hill too near the residence of President of India.

The lockdown, along with the shutdown of 10 metro stations in the capital, is expected to continue on Sunday as police fear protests and demonstrations could swell out of control.

Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Grounds are two sites that the Delhi Police chose for the protesters even as Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit appealed to Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde to allow protesters access to India Gate, the ground zero of protests earlier where the stir had turned violent.

The high security areas of Delhi like the roads on which the residences of Prime Minister, President and other top politicians are located were sealed.

Hearing the case on Saturday, a Delhi court remanded one of the six accused in the Delhi gangrape case to 12-day judicial custody.

Akshay Singh alias Thakur was produced before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Lokesh Kumar Sharma after the end of his one-day police custody.

He was the last person who was arrested in connection to the case on Dec 21.

The victim's male friend had identified Akshay as one of the people involved in the crime as he underwent test identification parade (TIP) on Dec 26, reports said.

Ram Singh, Mukesh, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma are the other accused arrested in connection to the case.

Akshay was remanded in police custody for a day on Friday in order to recover remaining case property and clothes that the accused were wearing on Dec 16 night while allegedly gangraping the 23-year-old victim.

The investigating officer in the case told the court that the clothes, victim's mobile phone and others valuables have been seized.

The police did not seek Akshay's further remand on Saturday.

The police said the proceedings relating to the sixth accused are being undertaken separately before the Juvenile Justice Board as he is a minor.

The police said the charges of rape would now be upgraded to murder.

Mourning the death, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: "I join the nation in conveying to her family and friends my deepest condolences at this terrible loss. I want to tell them and the nation that while she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain."

Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said the government will work hard to ensure that such incidents could be checked and stringent laws were made.

He urged people to not come out on the streets because the government "will do everything possible to address the issue".

He also defended the decision to take the woman to Singapore in best interest of her health and denied that it was a political decision.

President of India Pranab Mukherjee condoled the death.

"She was a brave and courageous girl who fought till the very last minute for her dignity and her life. She is a true hero and symbolises the best in Indian youth and women," said the President.

"I convey my condolences to her parents and family who have faced this adversity with fortitude and grace. I pray that they have the strength to bear this loss The nation will mourn the passing of this brave daughter of India," he said.

"At the same time, let us resolve that this death will not be in vain. We will do everything possible to ensure that such an incident never happens again," he said.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, "As a woman, as a mother I understand how you feel. I appeal to you to remain calm and help strengthen our collective resolve to fight the menace of violence against women."

"We pledge that she will get justice and her fight will not have been in vain," she said.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit appealed for calm while saying her heart is burning.

"Our heart goes to the family. My heart is burning over the incident. The passing away of the girl is a truly and terribly tragic incident. It shook our conscience," she said.

Later in the day as she tried to visit the epicentre of demonstrations, Jantar Mantar, she had to face the ire of protesters and return hastily.

Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said: "Her death has shaken the conscience of the nation. We must wake up and make India safe for daughters."

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar said: "We have lost a courageous daughter of our nation today."

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's issued a statement from his office saying. "My heart goes out to the family of the young girl and millions of young Indians and their families who work, hope and pray for a better India."

Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan also expressed their grief at the demise of the woman.

"Amanat, Damini just a name now... her body has passed away, but her soul shall shall forever stir our hearts," Bachchan said.

"I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture. I am so sorry that I am a man. I promise I will fight with your voice. I will respect women so that I gain my daughter's respect," Khan said on his Twitter account.

The 23-year-old medical student who was raped and brutalised by six men on a moving bus in Delhi on Dec 16, was shifted to the Singapore hospital because it specializes in multi-organ transplant procedures.

Large parts of the victim's intestines were removed as a result of the injuries she suffered from the attack.

The victim had already undergone three surgeries and a cardiac arrest earlier.

The woman had been was taken to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital for better treatment.

"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," a statement by the hospital said.

Doctors said she died of "severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain."

The woman's parents were by her side when the end came.

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