A young woman who died after being gang-raped and beaten on a bus in India was cremated today amid an outpouring of anger and grief across the country by millions of people demanding greater protection for women from sexual violence.
The cremation took place during a private ceremony in Delhi soon after the 23-year-old woman's body arrived in the capital on a special Air India flight from Singapore, where she died at a hospital on Saturday after being sent for medical treatment.
The tragedy has forced India to confront the reality that female victims of sexual assault are often blamed for the crime, which forces them to keep quiet and discourages 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.
The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress Party, were at the airport to receive the body and meet relatives of the victim who were on the flight. 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 cinema trip on 16 December. She was raped repeatedly by six men as the bus cruised the capital's streets. Their brutal assaults were allegedly hidden from view because the bus had tinted windows and closed curtains.
The trainee physiotherapist was also beaten with an iron rod which doctors believe caused the internal injuries that led to her death. She endured three operations, including one to remove 95 per cent of her intestines, and suffered a heart attack before she was airlifted to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital last Thursday.
Soon after her death on Saturday, police charged six men with murder. A spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, said all of the suspects faced the death penalty if convicted. The case has triggered protests throughout India and raised questions about lax attitudes by police towards sexual crimes. Thousands of Indians lit candles, held prayer meetings and marched through cities and towns, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata, on Saturday night to express their grief and demand stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape.
Yesterday, dozens of protesters tried to break through a police cordon and march to the parliament building in the capital, but were pushed back. The protesters, mainly from the student wing of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, shouted anti-government slogans. Hundreds of police sealed off the high-security area where the seat of government is located, in anticipation of more protests.
But even as thousands mourned the rape victim, in a sign of how pervasive such crimes are police in West Bengal were investigating another suspected gang rape and death.
The family of a woman said she and her husband were attacked as they returned home from work at a brick factory, and that six men dragged the woman into a farm after pouring acid into her husband's mouth.
The woman was found dead with multiple injuries and police detained four men for questioning.