Rape victim 'was to wed boyfriend in February'

He emerges as key witness in trial; cremation sparks fresh protests

 

NEW DELHI - The 23-year-old Indian student, whose body was flown home from Singapore, was cremated yesterday not far from her home in Delhi, even as her boyfriend emerged as the key witness in a trial of the six suspects accused of raping and murdering her.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were at the airport to receive the victim's parents as they arrived on a chartered plane with their daughter's body at around 3.30am local time (6am Singapore time).

The cremation took place within hours of her body being flown home from Singapore, where she died from severe injuries while receiving treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Junior Minister for Home Affairs R.P.N. Singh, who was at the funeral, said a Hindu ceremony was performed. The body was bathed and clothes changed before the funeral pyre was lit.

Her mother collapsed at the funeral and was briefly admitted to a Delhi hospital for mental trauma and exhaustion, doctors said.

Neighbours said the young woman, a victim of a gang rape aboard a moving bus, had planned to marry her boyfriend, who was also hurt in the attack.

"They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi" in February, neighbour Meena Rai told Agence France-Presse.

The woman, who would have graduated with a degree in physiotherapy in six months, was raped in a bus by six men on Dec 16. Her boyfriend, a software engineer, was beaten up. He has helped identify the six assailants, and police are expected to file charges on Thursday.

Mr Singh said the tight secrecy around the funeral was to "respect the privacy of the family".

News of the cremation sparked fresh protests in Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi. The protests turned violent at one point with protesters trying to break the police cordon.

Police yesterday continued to cordon off India Gate and nearby high-security areas which include the President's official residence and the Prime Minister's Office, in anticipation of more protests.

The government has decided to speed up the trial of the six accused, and promised better protection for women. But it has been unable to cool anger against continuing crimes against women.

"I don't think anything will change. I think the funeral should have been done openly. But still, people are with her even if they couldn't attend the funeral," said software engineer Aditya Goel.

Delhi saw a fresh case of assault at the weekend. A 16- year-old girl, who ran away from home after an argument with her parents, was molested by an off-duty conductor on a city bus in New Delhi on Saturday night.

Police arrested conductor Ranjeet Singh and the Delhi government fired him. The bus driver and the conductor on duty were also fired. "We are going to take strict action in this case and any others that come to our attention," Delhi Transport Minister Ramakant Goswami told The Straits Times.

Since last Thursday, he said, the government has deployed 89 home guards on public buses after 11pm to keep women safe. This incident took place before the guard boarded, he said.

Since the Dec 16 case, seven more cases of rape have been reported to Delhi police.

"I don't feel safe going out. Every woman in Delhi faces harassment. It has to change. The police have to be sensitised," said psychiatrist Rasmeet Sohota, 25, who was among the protesters.

Delhi has the highest number of crimes against women among Indian cities, with 635 cases recorded this year. According to the government, 24,206 rapes were reported nationally last year up from 21,397 in 2009.

gnirmala@sph.com.sg

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