Gang-Rape Victim's Body Flown Home to Grieving India
The body of a gang-rape victim was being flown back to New Delhi on Sunday after her death from sickening injuries in a Singapore hospital triggered a mass outpouring of grief and anger in India.
The plane carrying the 23-year-old medical student's body and her family set off from Singapore shortly after midnight (1600 GMT Saturday) and was expected to land before dawn in Delhi where thousands of people held a late-night candlelit vigil.
As police said the six accused of murdering the 23-year-old could face the death penalty, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led appeals for calm to prevent a repeat of the sometimes violent protests that followed the December 16 assault.
Thousands took part in fresh demonstrations on Saturday but they passed off peacefully as mourners vowed the medical student's killing would serve as a tipping point for how the nation deals with violence against women.
The unnamed woman's tragic death has caused widespread revulsion. Doctors who had been treating her at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital after she was airlifted there on Thursday were unable to prevent multiple organ failure.
Protesters who gathered in the Jantar Mantar thoroughfare in central Delhi, scene of the largest protest, said the death was a wake-up call for a country in denial about the levels of violence that women face.
The numbers swelled throughout the day and into the evening, with some 5,000 taking part in a candlelit vigil after nightfall despite near freezing temperatures.
Bela Rana, who was among the protestors, said the outrage after the attack represented a sea change and women were no longer prepared to suffer in silence.
"We are aware that this is not the first case, nor will it be the last case of gang-rape in India, but it is clear that we will not tolerate sex crimes any more," said Rana, a Delhi-based lawyer.
After previous protests had been broken up by riot police, Saturday's passed off peacefully.
However when the chief minister of New Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, tried to join the crowds she was roundly heckled and quickly withdrew.
Some of the protesters, who also gathered in outlying areas of the capital, carried banners that read "Hang the Rapist", accompanied by a picture of a noose.
While six men who had already been arrested have yet to be formally charged, they are now accused of murder.
"It is a non-bailable offense which carries the death sentence," police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.
Gang-rapes are a daily occurrence in India and many go unreported by victims who have little faith in an often painfully slow justice system and are deterred by the response they can receive from male police officers.
But the particularly savage nature of the attack in Delhi has brought simmering anger to a boiling point and prompted the government to promise better security for women and harsher sentences for sex crimes.
After boarding a bus, the student was attacked by the men who took turns raping her and assaulted her with an iron bar before throwing her and her male companion off the moving vehicle.
"We have already seen the emotions and energies this incident has generated," said Singh.
"These are perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change."
As crowds mourned the student's death in Singapore, the Press Trust of India reported a new series of sex attacks, including the gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl who then tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison in Gujarat state.
And an 18-year-old rape victim committed suicide in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh after police allegedly failed to take action against the accused.
Shah Rukh Khan, the most famous actor in Bollywood, tweeted that the gang-rape victim had forced India to confront a shameful reality.
"Rape embodies sexuality as our culture & society has defined it. I am so sorry that I am a part of this society and culture," he wrote.