March 11 (Bloomberg) -- The bus driver accused of leading the group of men who gang raped and murdered a physiotherapy student in New Delhi last year was found hanged in his cell in the capital’s biggest prison in the middle of his trial.
Ram Singh killed himself at about 5 a.m. today, Sunil Gupta, a spokesman for the city’s Tihar Jail, said in a phone interview. Singh had made a rope from his clothes, the Press Trust of India reported. Singh’s father said his son had been murdered, and demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the news agency reported.
The brutal attack on the 23-year-old medical student as she returned home from the cinema on Dec. 16 shocked India and reverberated around the world, triggering street protests and drawing attention to the scale of sexual violence against women in the world’s largest democracy. The student died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
“The incident today will affect the trial, delay the legal process and even sidetrack the political debate on women’s safety,” N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, said amid criticism of jail authorities.
Singh was one of five men and a juvenile on trial for rape, murder and kidnapping. Five of the alleged attackers are appearing at a specially convened fast-track court in New Delhi, which is closed to the media. The sixth is facing a juvenile justice board as he’s been declared under 18. All deny the charges against them.
After being sent to Tihar, Singh was struggling to communicate and fluctuating between crying and laughing, Manohar Lal Sharma, his lawyer at the time, said. “He is mentally disturbed,” Sharma said in a Jan. 9 interview.
Singh’s father, who wasn’t named, told PTI that his son had earlier been beaten up in jail. The agency said all five adult men charged with offenses in the case had been put on suicide watch.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said that a preliminary investigation suggested that Ram Singh took his own life. Shinde ordered an inquiry by a magistrate.
The six accused met at Singh’s home in a New Delhi slum on the evening of the attack, and used the school bus that he drove in his job, police said.
In the brutal two-hour assault that followed, the woman was allegedly repeatedly raped before being dumped naked along with a male friend beside a road near New Delhi’s airport. The couple were then ignored by passersby and police argued over where to take them as they lay bleeding on the street, according to televised comments by the man who survived the attack. Neither have been officially named.
Tihar jail, which houses many of India’s most dangerous criminals, has 12,000 prisoners, almost double the sanctioned capacity, according to the prison website.
Gupta said that an inquiry would be ordered into how Singh, one of the most high-profile defendants in the jail, was able to commit suicide.
India’s government has toughened sentences for attacks on women in the wake of the rape and murder. A panel headed by a retired senior judge also recommended making a police failure to officially record a rape accusation a criminal offense, and ensuring greater sensitivity among police and doctors gathering evidence of sexual assaults.
In his budget speech, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the attack on the woman has cast “a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials.”
India was named the fourth-worst place in the world to be a woman after Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan in a 2011 survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The report cited female feticide, human trafficking, sexual violence and poor education for India’s low score in the global rankings.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com