Unmasked at last: mother comes face to face with men accused of raping and killing her daughter in India

Family issues plea for justice in bus rape case that shocked India

Delhi

The mother of a student who died after being gang-raped on a bus in Delhi came face to face with her alleged attackers for the first time and broke down in tears, pleading: “Please bring justice for my daughter.”

The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was at the court in Delhi with her husband and one of her two sons to testify against four men charged over the attack last December. Vinay Sharma, Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta and Akshay Thakur have all pleaded not guilty and face the death penalty if convicted.

Under Indian law, the name of the victim – a physiotherapy student from Billia in Uttar Pradesh state – and the victim’s family, cannot be published.

“We want justice,” said the quietly-spoken mother, dressed in a pink sari and wiping tears from her face as she sat outside the courtroom, having given her testimony. “My daughter went through such a lot of atrocities and we want justice.”

Asked whether she had looked at the men accused of killing her daughter, she said they had been sitting just a few feet away from her. “I saw them face to face.”

The victim’s brother, who went into the courtroom to support his parents, claimed the suspects were smiling. “I wanted to slap them. I had to stop myself. I had to be strong,” the 20-year-old said. “They were shameless.”

International media have been prohibited from attending the proceedings but Indian reporters who heard the evidence said the mother sat in the witness box and recalled how she frantically tried to call her daughter on the night of the assault. “She left the house at 4pm and informed me that she was going to the market to purchase some goods and watch a movie with her friend, Awindra [Pandey],” she said. “When she had not come back at 9pm I made a call but her mobile phone was switched off.”

She said she had tried to call Mr Pandey’s phone but it was also turned off. “At around 11.15pm, I received a call from the Delhi police control room saying that an incident had happened with my girl and she had been taken to Safdarjung hospital,” she added.

The mother said that as her daughter’s conditioned worsened, she and her family flew to Singapore with her for specialist emergency treatment. Her daughter died there on 29 December and her body was later returned to them at Delhi airport.

Questioned by some of the lawyers for the accused, the mother said that on the day her daughter was flown to Singapore, grievously ill, the student was not well enough to talk to her. “My daughter was not able to speak a single word,” she added.

The victim and her friend were attacked after they boarded a private bus following a trip to the cinema to see the film Life of Pi. They had believed the bus would take them towards their homes but in reality it was being driven around Delhi by the suspects, allegedly on the lookout to pick up and rob passengers. The men are alleged to have repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted her and struck Mr Pandey about the head with iron bars before throwing the pair from the bus, thinking them dead. They lay naked at the roadside for up to 20 minutes before passers-by came to help.

The attack triggered protests in Delhi and elsewhere. Following the outcry, the government has rushed through new laws and tougher punishments designed to protect women.

Six people were arrested in connection with the attack – five adults and a 17-year-old, who is being dealt with by a juvenile court. In March, one of the five adults charged with the attack and accused of being a ringleader, Ram Singh, was found hanged in his cell at Delhi’s Tihar jail. Another of the accused was allegedly beaten and poisoned by prison inmates last week.

Vinya Sharma’s lawyer accused inmates of “beating him on the chest” and poisoning his food, and said he was admitted to Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital on Tuesday after being treated at another city hospital since Sunday.

As she completed her evidence before Saket District Court in Delhi, the mother broke down in the witness box and said: “Please bring justice for my daughter.” The trial continues.

Timeline

16 December 2012

A 23-year-old physiotherapy student travelling with a male companion is gang-raped on a bus in Delhi.

17 to 21 December

The bus driver, Ram Singh, and five others are arrested.

18 December

Uproar in parliament, protests in Delhi and elsewhere.

29 December

The rape victim dies in a Singapore hospital.

7 January 2013

Suspects appear in court charged with abduction, gang rape and murder.

11 March

Ram Singh is found dead in jail in an apparent suicide.

12 May

Another suspect, Vinya Sharma, is beaten and poisoned by other inmates while in jail on remand.

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