NEW DELHI – A man on trial for the gang rape and fatal beating of a student on a bus in New Delhi last December was found dead in his prison cell Monday, prompting fury from the victim’s family and accusations of murder.
Officials at the maximum-security Tihar Jail on the outskirts of the Indian capital said bus driver Ram Singh had hanged himself with a noose made out of his clothing.
But Singh’s parents said there was no way their son could have committed suicide and that he had told them his life was in danger, while his lawyer said the death should be treated as murder.
Singh, one of six people on trial over the attack that brought simmering anger about sex crimes in India to the boil, was found dead at around 5:15 a.m. in his solitary confinement cell.
“He tied all his clothes together and used the ceiling grille and a wooden stool to hang himself,” the prison’s law officer, Sunil Gupta, said.
Gupta said a judicial magistrate had begun an investigation to probe any security lapses surrounding the death of Singh, who was in his 30s and was the regular driver of the bus.
The father of the 23-year-old gang-rape victim said it was clear authorities had been negligent.
“We don’t understand how could the police fail to protect Ram Singh. They knew he was the prime accused in my daughter’s case,” said the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
“How could they let him choose the way he wanted to die? The police have failed and I wonder what will happen to the case now.”
The victim’s mother said she was shocked to hear of the suicide.
“I just wanted justice for my daughter,” she said.
Singh was making regular appearances in a New Delhi court, where he faced murder, rape and kidnapping charges over a crime that ignited street protests and soul-searching about India’s treatment of women.
Four other men charged over the gang rape face the death sentence if convicted in a special fast-track court, the proceedings of which are subject to a media gagging order. They have all pleaded not guilty.
A sixth 17-year-old suspect is being tried in juvenile court where he faces a maximum three years imprisonment.
Lawyers for the defendants have previously claimed their clients had been attacked and V.K. Anand, a defense attorney in the case, urged authorities to open a murder inquiry. “This is a murder case. If he had committed suicide then he would have left a suicide note,” he said.
Ram Singh’s father, Mangelal Singh, said his son had been raped in prison by other inmates and had been repeatedly threatened by inmates and guards. Nevertheless, he said he visited his son four days ago and the man appeared fine and gave no hint of the despair that could drive him to take his own life.
Ram Singh also had a badly injured hand and would have been unable to orchestrate a suicide, his father said, speaking from outside his small home in a New Delhi slum. “Somebody has killed him,” he said, insisting he would push for a top level investigation into the death.
He said Singh was sharing his cell with two other men, contradicting claims from jail authorities that he was in solitary confinement.
Despite Ram Singh’s not guilty pleas in court, his father indicated that his son acknowledged his guilt.
“My son told me that he was ashamed by what had happened on 16 December. He said that he would accept whatever punishment is given to him,” Mangelal Singh said.
The bus rape victim, who was studying physiotherapy, died on Dec. 29 at a hospital in Singapore, 13 days after the attack.
As well as being repeatedly raped, she was also violated with a metal bar, leaving her with massive internal injuries.