The victim in a horrific Dec. 16 gang rape in New Delhi was from India's urban middle class. Most of those accused of the crime lived in a slum 11 miles from her home.
NEW DELHI — One of hundreds of attacks reported in New Delhi each year, the brutal gang rape and murder of a young medical student in a private bus this month caught authorities and political parties flat-footed, slow to appreciate it had become symbolic of all the others.
In the moments before the Dec. 16 attack, the 23-year-old woman from India's urban middle class, who had recently qualified as a trainee physiotherapist in a private Delhi hospital, and her male friend, a software engineer, were walking home from a cinema at a shopping mall in south Delhi, according to a police reconstruction of events.
A bus, part of a fleet of privately-owned vehicles used as public transportation across the city of 16 million known as India's "rape capital," was at the same time heading toward them. Earlier that day, it had ferried school students but now was empty except for five men and a teenage boy, including its crew, police said. Most of the men were from the city's slums.
One of the six — all now charged with murder — lured the couple onto the bus, promising to drop the woman home, police have said, quoting from an initial statement that she gave from her hospital bed before her condition deteriorated rapidly.
A few minutes into the ride, her friend, 28, grew suspicious when the bus deviated from the expected route, and the men locked the door, according to her statement. They then taunted her for being out with a man late at night, prompting the friend to intervene and provoking an initial scuffle.
The attackers then beat him with a metal rod, knocking him unconscious, before turning on the woman who had tried to come to his defense. Police say the men admitted after their arrest to torturing and raping the student "to teach her a lesson."
At one point, the bus driver gave the wheel to another of the accused and dragged the woman by the neck to the back of the vehicle and forced himself upon her. The other five then took turns raping her and also driving the bus, keeping it circling through the busy streets of India's capital city, police said.
The woman was raped for nearly an hour before the men pushed a metal rod inside her, severely damaging her internal organs, and then dumped both her and her friend on the roadside, 5 miles from where they had boarded, police said.
Robbed of their clothes and belongings, they were found half naked, bleeding and unconscious later that night by a passerby who alerted the police.
FAMILY ROLE MODEL
The woman, whose identity has been withheld by police, gave her statement to a subdivisional magistrate Dec. 21 in the intensive care unit of Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital, according to local media reports. She was undergoing multiple surgical procedures, and her condition later began to rapidly worsen.
Ten days after the attack and still in critical condition, she was flown to Singapore for treatment. She died in Mount Elizabeth Hospital two days later. Her body was flown back to Delhi and cremated there Sunday in a private ceremony.
Family members who had accompanied her to Singapore declined to speak to reporters, but relatives told the Times of India newspaper that she had been a role model to her two younger brothers.
Unlike most traditional Indian families who only send their sons to fee-paying colleges or universities, her parents pinned their hopes on their daughter and took loans to fund her studies.
She was born and brought up in a middle class Delhi neighborhood after her family moved to the city more than 20 years ago from India's northern Uttar Pradesh state.
Her male friend recorded his statement to a local court days after the attack and helped police identify the six suspects. He left for his hometown in Uttar Pradesh late Saturday, missing the woman's funeral, local media reported.
Four of the accused, all in custody, lived in Ravi Das Camp, a slum about 11 miles from the woman's home in southwest Delhi. Inside the slum, people are demanding harsh punishment for the accused.
"The incident has really shocked all of us. I don't know how I will get my children admitted to a school. The incident has earned a bad name to this place," said Pooja Kumari, a neighbor of one of the accused.
Two of the six alleged assailants come from outside Delhi, according to police. One is married with children and was arrested in his native village in Bihar state, and the other, a juvenile, is a runaway from a broken home in Uttar Pradesh.
In India, murder is punishable by death by hanging, except in the case of offenders under age 18.
Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty.
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