India in mourning as rape victim dies in Singapore (Intro Roundup)

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 29, 2012 14:20 hrs

New Delhi/Singapore, Dec 29 (IANS) The unnamed, unidentified gang-rape victim who became the face of courage in the face of savage odds died in a Singapore hospital Saturday, halting much of India in its tracks in a rare moment of coalescing concerns that saw the leadership echoing millions in pushing for a full stop in crimes against women.

In the dying days of the year, the young physiotherapy intern had lost her battle for life in a Singapore hospital - 13 days after a trip to see a film with a friend ended in her being brutally tortured and raped by six men in a moving bus.

She was left, stripped and bloody, virtually for dead on that cold Dec 16 night, so grievously injured that her intestines had to be taken out. Now she is dead.

The six accused, including one suspected juvenile, are in jail and all of society in the dock. All six will now face murder charge.

Her death should not be in vain, was the chorus from President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and civil society, doffing its collective hat to the spirited 23-year-old who propelled an entire nation into a rethink of its societal rules and laws and prompted an outpouring of grief seldom seen before.

Across the country, in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Bhopal, Patna, Kolkata, in city after city, the grief found echo. There were candlelight vigils big and small, in condominiums in places like Gurgaon and in housing complexes like Press Enclave in Saket.

The woman passed away peacefully at 4.45 a.m. (2.15 IST) with her family and Indian diplomats by her side, Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital said.

"She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain," hospital official Kevin Loh said. "We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to care for her in her final struggle."

The body is to be flown back to India Saturday evening in a special aircraft.

As introspection continued on the vulnerability of women, the legal framework to prevent aggravated sexual assaults and ways to stem such crimes, there were tears and protests.

From politicians, celebrities, students and domestic workers. Men and women, everybody was a stakeholder. Many pushed for the death penalty but there were also voices advising against such extreme steps.

The president termed the young woman -- who had told her family she did not want to die -- "a true hero". The prime minister spoke out in almost the same words, saying that it was up to "us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain".

The reticent Sonia Gandhi said - twice in two days - that we "pledge that she will get justice".

Others spoke up too. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan said he was ashamed of being a man. "I promise I will fight with your voice," he said in a tribute to the "brave little girl".

India's civil society agreed. And gathered in their thousands.

Though there was a virtual lockdown in Delhi's city centre, protesters gathered at Jantar Mantar area close by and the anger spilled over. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was booed away.

The bus stop at Munirka, where the woman boarded the bus for that last ill-fated ride, piled up with flowers and scores of posters.

But even in this cathartic moment of collective grief, reports came in of harassment at Jantar Mantar.

And just three days ago, an 18-year-old victim of gang-rape committed suicide in Patiala, Punjab, because police had refused to register a case and humiliated her by asking difficult questions.

There must be some pause for reflection.

As lawyer Rebecca John told IANS: "I respect the outcry and the anger an the emotion on the street. But this is the yardstick from now on. Every rape, every assault will be measured by this.

"If this is how our society, and rightly so, reacts, there should be no going back from this point. Ishrat Jahan or a nun Kandhamal or any nameless or faceless person, our reaction has to be the same."

Vrinda Grover, lawyer and rights activist, added that the "answers were long and complicated".

"People need to keep paying attention. In the budget, will we see any difference in allocations? The long haul of holding government accountable has to be followed through."

This should be India's wake-up moment. Will it be so?

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