x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Indian gang-rape victim cremated amid outpouring of grief and anger

Even as candlelight vigils were held across India to mourn her death, incidents of sexual assault on women continued to be reported across the country.

NEW DELHI // The body of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died after being gang-raped and beaten on a bus in Delhi was cremated yesterday morning amid an outpouring of anger and grief by millions across the country demanding protection for women from sexual violence.

Even as candlelight vigils were held across India to mourn her death, incidents of sexual assault on women continued to be reported across the country.

In West Bengal, a 42-year-old woman was gang-raped and killed on Saturday night as she and her husband were returning from their jobs at a local brick factory. The men allegedly poured acid into the man's mouth and dragged the woman away before sexually assaulting her, the family said. The woman was found dead with multiple injuries, said police officer Bhaskar Mukherjee. No charges have been laid in the case although four men have been detained for questioning, the police said.

In Gujarat, a 14-year-old girl was critically injured in a suicide attempt after two men kidnapped and raped her on December 6, relatives said. Police said they have identified two suspects but not made any arrests.

In Delhi yesterday, another woman was reported to have been molested on a bus in Delhi. Police have arrested two men and impounded the public bus, authorities said.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh and the leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, met the dead student's family at the airport yesterday where a chartered plan returned her body from Singapore where she was being treated in a hospital.

"It deepens our determination to battle the pervasive, the shameful social attitudes and mindset that allow men to rape and molest women and girls with such an impunity," Mrs Gandhi said.

The student, who has not been publicly identified, was cremated privately after a convoy carrying the gold-coloured coffin drove towards south-west of the city, where she had lived with her parents and two brothers.

The woman aspired to be a doctor and her family had sold a small holding of their land in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh to pay for her education. Her father, a baggage handler at the Delhi International Airport, lived with his family in a one-bedroom flat, and often boasted to his friends about investing in his daughter's education, local news reports said, citing relatives and friends of the family.

She was to be formally engaged to the man who was travelling with her on December 16, the day of the rape. Her companion was also beaten. Police have charged six men with murder and warned they could face the death penalty.

Meena Rai said that she had been shopping with the victim for wedding outfits.

"She was supposed to get married in February to the same guy who was attacked on the bus with her," said Ms Rai, who lived next door in Mahavir Enclave, a neighbourhood in New Delhi.

"They had made all the wedding preparations and had planned a wedding party in Delhi," she said.

Although there are daily reports in the Indian media chronicling sexual assault on women, ranging in age from infants to the elderly, this incident galvanised the nation. The tragedy brought thousands onto the streets across India who demanded police and government confront the reality of sexual harassment of women, who are often blamed for the crime.

Delhi is considered one of the country's most unsafe cities for women. Annual statistics on rape released by the police showed that out of more than 600 cases of rape reported this year, only one conviction was obtained. In 2011, there were 572 reported cases, up from 507 in 2010.

Police have fought to control the protests in the capital since the bus incident. Large parts of central Delhi, home to many of its government offices are blocked to traffic. Public transportation in the areas has also been shut down and the government banned unlawful gatherings until today.

Yesterday, protests briefly turned violent at Jantar Mantar, an legal demonstration area in New Delhi, when a group of protesters tried to breach police barriers.

Cries of death penalty for the men accused of raping the student on the bus have continued.

"Don't hang them in the privacy of our jails. That will achieve nothing," said Pranav Jalan, one of the protesters in Delhi yesterday. "Hang them in public and drive home the point."

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae

* With Associated Press and Agence France-Presse